Thursday, May 10, 2012

Relay for Life--a Healing Experience, Part Two

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

A few days ago I told you about my first experience with Relay for Life, experiencing it as a healing circle even when I didn't know anyone. Last week, though, I helped to introduce someone to Relay and to the Breast Cancer Support Group, and saw the healing take place anew.

I live in a neighborhood of single women, most widowed or divorced, some never married. One of my friends--I'll call her Elle--is legally blind, so I frequently drive her places, including sometimes to visit her friends.She and her other friends are deep into crafts, quilting, and all sorts of needlework, something I have no talent for and no interest in other than in obtaining the occasional beautiful finished product. A couple of times I drove her to visit a woman I'll call Pia, a recent widow who was withdrawing into her shell and her home.

Then, to make matters worse, Pia was diagnosed with colon cancer. At least she carried through with surgery and chemotherapy, but it gave her an even better excuse to retreat to her armchair and TV set. I didn't see her frequently, but any time I did she was sad and unwilling to do anything that might change her mood.

Elle comes with me to Relay every year because she was one of my caregivers when I had uterine cancer. This year she asked if we could invite Pia. I said sure, expecting exactly what happened: Pia didn't think she wanted to go, she probably wouldn't feel up to it, she didn't think it was for her. Elle kept after her, though--and to both our surprise, on Relay night Pia decided to go. She told me she didn't think she should go because she didn't know yet if she would be a survivor.

I explained that she became a survivor with her diagnosis. The point of surviving is to do it, day by day, and survivors support one another. So we got Pia registered, she put on her Survivor t-shirt, and we went over to the "campsite" of my Relay Team, The 8th Wonders. Our team is made up completely of breast cancer survivors, all members of our local Breast Cancer Support Group. The name, The 8th Wonders, comes from the fact that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

The team welcomed Pia with open arms, and she was amazed to discover that she already knew several of them. Then we took her to "Look Good, Feel Better," where a couple of makeup experts did a beautiful job of makeup on her. The neat thing about people called upon for Relay is that they know things like how to make a woman in her 70's look like a bright, natural, rested version of herself. By the time they were finished, Pia was smiling--and I realized it was the first time I had ever seen her smile!

We rejoined the 8th Wonders for the medal ceremony, the victory lap, and the family and caregivers lap. When the regular laps began, I had the first half-hour for our team, so I left Elle and Pia at the campsite, talking and laughing with the other members of the team and their families. Pia was quickly learning that Relay is not at all a sad experience. People of all ages, from babes in arms to very senior citizens, walk, dance, eat, and socialize. A member of every team is on the track at all times, while kids of all ages play games in the infield, and many of the teams sell hamburgers, barbecue, cupcakes, and old-fashioned beans and cornbread.

By the time I got back from my time on the track, Pia had been invited to join the support group. She was laughing and talking and coming right out of the shell she had been in since I first met her. By the way, although we are technically the Breast Cancer Support Group, because there are no local support groups for any other kind of cancer, we welcome anyone with cancer who needs us.

Pia's exuberance lasted all the way home. And Elle tells me it has continued since. Pia finishes her chemotherapy next week, after which tests will determine what further treatment she needs. The following week is the next support group meeting, and she has already arranged to go with one of her quilting friends who is part of the group.

So there it is again, the healing power of Relay for Life. It's a wonderful experience, and I encourage you to go to your local Relay and see it for yourself. You may be surprised to discover how many survivors you know: neighbors, teachers, members of your church, your clubs--we are everywhere. Chances are there is a cancer survivor in your family--so take him or her along. You both will have a better time than you ever expected--even a healing one.

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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