The first weekend in August I volunteered at the Forest Lake Relay For Life. If you’re not familiar with Relay it’s an arm of the American Cancer Society (ACS) to raise funds for cancer research, education, and support. I got involved with Relay after my first year of living with cancer. I was a cancer-nerd and knew so little about the disease and how to live with it. Relay introduced me to many survivors and their caregivers, and I learned I was not alone.
By the time this day is over, 1,600 people will die from cancer. This is not a scare tactic but reality. What I learned through Relay is that you can live with cancer and you can survive it but it takes great courage and passion to live with a disease that is both demanding and unpredictable. Demanding because cancer invades your mind, body, and spirit. Cancer causes fear and dread. It makes us take a look at our lives and our deeds. Will my life end? Can I survive? If I survive, how will my body look and feel? The list of personal questions is endless.
Cancer is also unpredictable. I wasn’t supposed to live but I did. It took nine years to be cancer-free and the journey was a difficult one. I won’t lie about that. People who we think will live die, and those we think will die live. What makes the difference?
Some say it’s attitude – having a positive attitude. Some say it’s faith, or hope, or tenacity. I say it’s a decision. I believed from the very beginning that I would live. Sure there were awful times when I couldn’t eat, sleep, think, read, or listen. All I could do was live in the moment. Some of those moments were so long and painful. But my choice was to keep living and I kept living. It’s not magic that helped me survive cancer, it was the people I met and the places I’ve been.
I stood at Relay this year during the balloon release. Hundreds of white balloons were released in the air. I, too, had released a white balloon with my Mom’s name of it. Once released, Mom’s balloon joined all the others as they made their upward climb to heaven. It was a clear night and I could see the balloons getting smaller and smaller. At the moment that I could no longer see my Mom’s balloon I knew in my heart that my balloon kissed my Mom in the sky. I stood there amazed. Then the tears flowed and I couldn’t stop them. I cried on three different shoulders of lovely friends who comforted me in my agony. I miss my Mom and I wish she had beat cancer like I did. But cancer took her life and took away the one person in my world who I knew loved me.
Relay has helped me realize that other people love me, too. Next year I’m going to release two balloons – one for my Mom and one for me. One life gone but never forgotten and one life saved.
The true role of cancer is to make us realize what we have, who we are, and how quickly that can all change. Cancer taught me to never give up – and I won’t!
I invite other cancer survivors to comment on what helped them survive. I’m really interested in what turned your life into living and not dying.
NEVER GIVE UP — EVER!!!