Sunday, May 6, 2012

Relay for Life--a Healing Experience, Part One

I am Jean Lorrah, writing a guest post on the Geezer-Chick blog.

You have undoubtedly read about Geezer-Chick's recent experience with breast cancer. I had breast cancer eleven years ago, and uterine cancer five years ago--but I'm fine now and proceeding with my life.

Last Friday night was our local Relay for Life. I relay every year, because it is an incredibly healing experience.

I've been on a relay team for nine years now, but ten years ago, about three weeks short of a year after my own diagnosis, I went hesitantly to my first relay. Like most survivors, I didn't actually realize that I was one (survivorship begins at diagnosis). Still, I registered, purchased a luminarium in memory of my aunt who died of breast cancer in 1972 (having survived 20 years of recurrences through experimental treatments), donned the survivor t-shirt they gave me, and wandered around watching kids playing in the stadium infield and looking at all the sites run by the relay teams, selling food and trinkets and taking donations. That was the first surprise: everyone was having a good time--it was not the solemn occasion everyone expects the first time.

I picked up a flyer about a local breast cancer support group at the "campsite" of a group of exuberant women in pink t-shirts. I still wasn't quite sure what I was doing there or if I would ever attend again, but I joined the other survivors on the benches in the infield, and went forward to claim a medal when my name was called. It was heartening to see hundreds of survivors just from our county, and hear how long it was since their diagnoses: two years, five years, twenty years, even forty years! Cancer is no longer a death sentence.

The second surprise came next. After the medal ceremony came the survivor lap: all of us marched around the stadium track to the strains of "I Will Survive" and the cheers of onlookers. Suddenly I was in the midst of a healing circle. I can't really explain it. I am not religious and hardly even spiritual, but on a few occasions in my life I have felt something beyond the ordinary--and this was one of those occasions. I felt lifted, I felt connected, and I felt cured.

I stayed for the luminarium ceremony, the only solemn part of the relay, when the liminaria are lit, the lights are dimmed, and the names of those who have lost their battle with cancer are read out loud, while the names of those still surviving appear on a large screen--far outnumbering those being memorialized. After watching people walking the track, dancing, playing in the infield again, I left, still glad I had come.

When I later learned that the women in pink, who were having such a good time, were all breast cancer survivors representing the support group, I went to one of their meetings, joined up, and the rest is history.

That's my personal relay healing story, from ten years ago. Next time I will post the story of a woman who went to her first relay last Friday.

If you would like to support Relay for Life and don't have a team of your own, you are welcome to support my team. Find my Relay Page here.

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