Cancer metaphor very real
This past Saturday was the third annual Relay for Life on Francis Field to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The event took place from 6 p.m. on Saturday and lasted until 6 a.m. on Sunday. The event began with the emotional opening ceremonies, where several students shared their personal stories fighting cancer themselves or in their families.
During the ceremony, the Relay volunteers explained the reason for the timing of the event. The 12-hour span represents the struggle of a cancer patient, with things getting dark and cold but then hopefully getting better at the end. Eerily, the experience at Relay seemed a little too metaphoric to the cancer struggle.
As the Relay leaders said, the event started out well. There was plenty of food, friends came to visit, it wasn’t too cold, and there were a lot of other activities to keep participants entertained. Most important, the walking around the track was fun and different from a normal Saturday night.
After working on a thesis and spring break it was a great chance to catch up with friends. The event brought people together.
Around 10 p.m. was the Lumanaria ceremony. The lights around the track represented the honor and memory of cancer fighters. The lights also spelled out the words “hope” and “cure” in the stands of the stadium. We also heard more moving stories and testimonials. Taking a lap in quiet reflection was definitely a spiritual experience.
Then things got a little harder. The food and hot drinks ran out quickly. The night only got colder and darker after midnight. While I was glad to have made it to the halfway point in relative comfort, I realized that I was in no way close to the halfway point physically.
Not only were my legs starting to feel heavy, but I recognized how incredibly tired I was. I started thinking of the NCAA tournament games I was missing; my warm bed was calling me from just a few hundred yards away.
My friends and roommates who were not participating were not going to come drop by and visit from 2 to 4 a.m. Many other participants took advantage of the wristband which allowed us to leave, but didn’t come back.
Though I didn’t leave, I didn’t exactly brave the whole experience. I fell asleep in my tent during what was for me the most difficult time: 3 to 5 a.m. When I woke up, I heard some energetic people still running around, though most were packing up tents and supplies. Most importantly, there were far, far fewer people than there had been a few hours earlier.
As I sat during the closing ceremonies, listening to another heartbreaking testimonial, I felt incredibly guilty. I realized that I had essentially taken an easy route out after only nine hours. Thousands of cancer patients fighting their battles each year do not have the option of simply taking a nap and warming up in a sleeping bag and then getting back to full strength.
It was during those last few moments that the cancer metaphor really hit home for me. Each year far fewer people survive the battle with cancer than begin it. The lesson I took away from Relay for Life was not that spending a night on the track can be done or can be fun. Relay reinforced not only the broad goal of curing cancer, but the sheer intensity of the struggle for an individual with the disease.
I realized how incredibly valuable having friends and visitors can be, especially when it’s getting late. Having food and other comforts to approximate normal daily life seems simple, but they mean much more. Cancer can bring families together initially, but the reality of fighting, and potentially losing the battle can drain much more than the energy to walk on a track.
Mostly, I was thankful that at 6 a.m., I could go to sleep. I woke up and my life was all back to the way it was before. The NCAA tournament was on, my fridge was full and the heat in my apartment worked fine. The image of a much emptier grandstand at 6 a.m. than at 6 or 10 p.m. still haunted me. I hope the image stays with me, and stays with all of us should the unfortunate occur and cancer strikes.
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