Life Redefined: The Gwinnett County Relay For Life: Coming Together With One Voice
I wish you all could have been with me at Relay For Life, but since you couldn’t, I’m going to try to convey the spirit of the event. I truly hope this gives you an idea of the power behind a unified front. The Gwinnett County, GA Relay For Life is the largest Relay in the world. There were between 8,000 and 10,000 people at the event and we raised around $2,000,000 that will go toward cancer research and awareness. I heard a lot of different stories from people with all different kinds of cancer. People were wearing all different colors of awareness bands (yes, I rocked my Dear Thyroid wristband!). BUT, we all came together and with one voicewe told the world we are not OK with the presence of cancer in our lives. Relay For Life was one huge party. Yes, a party.
We were celebrating survivorship and we were celebrating the memories of loved ones who fought a good fight against cancer. I’m hesitant to say those loved ones lost the battle to cancer because their memories live on and they continue to make an impact. The American Cancer Society, the self-proclaimed official sponsor of birthdays, threw a birthday party for survivors, complete with birthday cake, balloons, and a DJ. And we all sang Happy Birthday to each other. We also were given the opportunity to write a note that will be passed on to a newly diagnosed cancer patient. Every survivor in the room could recall that nauseating feeling you get when you first hear your name associated with cancer, but every survivor in that room also knew, at least to some degree, how to keep living. It was an opportunity to pass on encouragement and hope.
Here’s a picture of my friend Sabrina, me, & my mom at the “birthday party”:
I took on a mechanical bull. The bull won. Twice. You might be wondering, what does riding a mechanical bull have to do with finding a cure for cancer? Everything. Taking a ride on the bull cost $5, which went to straight to the American Cancer Society!
The Survivors Lap was the official Relay kick-off. There were about 2,000 survivors plus their caregivers walking a lap together, celebrating life
Walking the Survivors Lap was emotional and powerful. I accept that I have cancer. I am capable of saying my name and cancer in the same sentence, but walking in the Survivors Lap was a reality check. I was walking in the lap reserved for people with cancer. I had to let that sink in for a bit. Then, it was exciting. Thousands of supporters lined both sides of the track. These people weren’t just giving us two thumbs up as we walked by; they were yelling and screaming and clapping and cheering their hearts out. In this picture, I’m grinning from ear to ear because on the sideline, two of my brothers and one of my friends are yelling my name and cheering for me at the top of their lungs. This was the one lap that I did for myself. I loved every second of it.
There was a team there for a guy named Mike, a former president of the booster club for the local hockey team. In February, Mike was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. He anticipates this was his last Relay For Life for which he’ll be alive to participate. His Relay team was there to support him, and they made their presence known with their awesome t-shirts that screamed “Puck Cancer.” I loved that slogan and had to share it with you!
There was a lap that was designated for kids. These kids all took a lap around the track together to tell us they are taking a stand against cancer and fighting for a cure. It was sobering to watch. Some had parents with them who were cancer survivors, some were survivors themselves, and some were walking because they’ve seen the destructive effects of cancer and are not OK with it. I saw one boy being pushed around the track in a wheelchair with a survivor ribbon and pin tacked to his shirt and tears streaming down his face. It was humbling and heartbreaking but also encouraging to see such young kids wise enough to stand up against cancer, wise enough to raise awareness. After dark, people lit luminaries in memory of or in honor of those who’ve been affected by cancer. It was a beautiful and heart-wrenching all at the same time. Too many lives have been affected by cancer, and seeing all those candles lit made the impact of cancer even more tangible.
I want you to know I walked for the entire Dear Thyroid community to support our efforts in making thyroid diseases and cancers Invisible No More. I also walked one lap for each person who commented on my post last Tuesday. Walking those laps was truly an honor. Thank you for allowing me to stand in for you, to be your voice against cancer.
I love y’all!
Tags: cancer awareness, cancer fundraising, cancer walks, family support for cancer patients and survivors, GA Relay for Life, luminaries lap, the American Cancer Society, the cancer patient lap, the children's lap, The Gwinnett County, the survivors lap