Thursday, July 11, 2013

Relay for Life

Every year, for the past three years, my kids and I have participated in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.  It is a walk to raise money for cancer research.  It focuses on survivors, their caretakers, and the people fighting for their life.  The American Cancer Society holds relays all over the country.  We participate in our town and we do it for our loved ones. 

10 years ago, two people I love dearly were diagnosed with cancer.  My Dad and my lifelong friend's Mom.  My Dad was diagnosed in May, went through surgery to remove the tumor, and then found out he would have to go through chemo since they found cancer in his lymph nodes.  It was a tough fight, but he fought hard.  By that October, he was healthy enough to fly to where I lived to walk me down the aisle at my wedding.  It was a true miracle that he was healthy enough to be there, because there were times when his Dr told me to pack my bags and be ready to fly out since no one thought he was going to make it that May and that Summer.  We are very fortunate to have him here with us now, healthy, and enjoying life. 

Unfortunately, there was someone missing at my wedding.  That was my lifelong friend Jaycee and her family.  I met Jaycee when we were wee tikes in elementary school and we had been friends ever since.  When my parents moved away, her Mom sort of stepped in as a local surrogate Mom to me.  I became extremely close to her parents, Jackie and John.  So to have them all missing from my wedding was heartbreaking.  When I found out the reason, I was devastated.  Jackie had been diagnosed with cancer. 

Over the next month, I visited Jackie whenever I could.  She was always surrounded by people who loved her.  She had only one daughter by birth, but the amount of Jaycee's friends who adopted Jackie as a surrogate Mom were countless.  Jackie put up a good fight, but she ended up passing away at the end of 2003. 

In September of 2010, my Grandmother, whom I have been extremely close to my whole life, was diagnosed with cancer.  She was given only a few weeks to live.  She wasn't strong enough for any treatments, but her stubborn Portuguese blood kept her around until April 2011.  The loss was, and is, devastating to me. 

Jaycee had another blow when her Dad was diagnosed with cancer.  He was lucky enough to get into a trial for a cancer drug and Im happy to say that he is a survivor today.  Just like my Dad, he is around to celebrate birthdays, grandkids, special moments with family and friends.  We are so blessed to have our Dads with us today.  My Dad just celebrated his 10th year since being diagnosed.  He is the best Grandfather my kids could ever have.  I am so lucky that he got diagnosed early and was able to get the treatment he needed.  So many people don't get the help they need, or dont get a cancer diagnosis early enough to be able to get it treated and cured.  The American Cancer Society raises money so people who cannot pay for treatment or checkups can get them.  The Relay for Life is a way that we can raise money so others can celebrate birthdays and grandkids, kids, LIFE.

The third weekend in June, campsites are set up around a track.  Each team decorates their campsite and showcases their fundraising efforts.  Some teams make and sell food, some have games and activities, some make crafts, some sell ribbons or other items.  Some teams have raffles, some people help out by donating their time, like the karate teachers that allow people to break boards for money, or the hair stylists who cut pony-tails to donate to companies to make wigs for cancer patients.  The relay is a way for Survivors, Fighters, caretakers, family members, friends, and other supporters to help raise money so many more people can call themselves "SURVIVORS".  The relay is an overnight thing, people walking the track all hours from usually mid afternoon, until late morning the next day.  At night the track is lined with luminaria bags.  Each bag is decorated for someone who has or has had cancer.  They are filled with sand and a candle is put inside and lit at 9pm.  It is a beautiful sight to see, the track lit up with these tributes to loved ones.  Public is invited to walk and to celebrate with us.  There is a survivor lap, where survivors walk with their caregivers, and then they are treated to a survivor dinner afterwards.  Each survivor wears a purple shirt, and the purple sea of survivors walking the track during the survivor lap is amazing to see.  It is so heartwarming to see everyone who got this gift of a second chance at life.  There usually is not a dry eye when the survivors walk by. 

Our team, "Nana's Angels" was started by Jaycee in memory of her mother, who loved Angels.  Her grandkids, Jakob and Jessika, called her Nana.  My kids, still to this day, call her "nana Jackie".  The team name fits her perfectly.  Not only did she love angels, but her grandkids were her angels, and now she is our angel.  For fundraising, our team normally has a raffle and sells small items like purple (Jackie's favorite color, and also the color of her type of cancer.... every cancer has it's own color for support ribbons) glitter ribbon tattoos, bracelets made by Jaycee's daughter Jessika, and this year we had a bake sale with homemade goodies.  When people walk around the relay track, they are invited to stop at each campsite, see what they are offering and how they are raising money, and everyone is invited to join their cause.  It feels like a huge family, everyone is walking for the same reason, everyone is raising money for the same reason.  We all have people we are supporting and loving and fighting with and for.  My kids and I fight in memory of Jackie and my Grandmother and we walk in honor of my Dad.  For his father's day gift, we walk in his name.  This year, I raised $260 so far, in his name.  Happy Father's Day, Dad!  My kids raised most of it, having people sponsor each lap they did, and both of them did around 40 laps each.  It was amazing to see my 9 year old (Who actually chooses to spend most of his birthday, June 22nd, at the relay each year) and my 5 year old so passionate about raising money for such a good cause.  Our team as a whole, with raffle tickets sold, baked items sold, tattoos, money donations, etc, has raised very close to $5,000 this year.  This is a number we are very proud of and hoping to beat in 2014! 

If you have a loved one who has fought/is fighting or you just want to show your support,  please get involved.  Visit the American Cancer Society's relay for life website to find a relay near you.  Or donate your time or money to the cause.  HERE is my personal donation site where you can make a donation to team "Nana's Angels".  All money goes directly to the American Cancer Society.  I promise you, your donation, no matter how small or large, will make a huge difference. 

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