Leelee’s Relay for Life Experience

As individuals we are all unique, and thus, we are all uniquely inspired.  Inspiration varies so greatly, it is almost difficult to understand as a concept.  The following is the inspired words of my girlfriend, Lee, and everything she recently experienced during a very special, and inspirational, event.  Though I, too, was moved, this page is all hers.

I experienced 18 of the most rewarding hours of my life this past weekend.  The time was shared with friends and strangers.  Some were friends prior to my experience and some were strangers whom I now think of as friends, even though I never got around to knowing their names. That is what happens when you participate in an event like Relay for Life.

Firstly, I want to give you some background on what Relay for Life is.  Per the American Cancer Society website, “Relay for Life is much more than a walk around a track. It is a time to remember those lost to cancer and celebrate those who have survived. It is a night for people who have shared the same experience, to comfort and console one another.” If you ever feel like YOU can’t make a difference, this event is the best example of how YOU, one person, can.  The Relay event was founded by one man, Dr. Gordy Klatt, who “wanted to enhance the income of his local ACS office”. Because he ran lap after lap for 24 hours around a track in Washington, others were inspired and motivated to join him the next year, 1986, and look how his idea and dream became a reality.

The Relay was not my first experience with charitable work.  Everyone who knows me knows that I have devoted many hours of love, affection, tears and sweat in working to save a few furry critters. That time was both heartbreaking and gratifying all at once. I will never turn my back on that effort and I hope to be involved once again someday soon. But the Relay was a completely different experience for me.

I rarely think of my father as a “cancer survivor” because he died of liver failure. Liver failure, doctors believe, that was brought on by his chemotherapy. Nevertheless,  I could not help but be reminded of my father’s battle with cancer 13 years prior to his death. I cannot begin to tell you the feeling I felt when they began the survivor’s walk and called for those who are actively in treatment, then those one year removed from treatment, then five years removed, then ten years removed. The inspiration that swept over me was indescribable.  So was  the sadness. I was thinking that if my father were still alive today, he could have been walking with the other 10 year plus survivors, because he was 10 years removed from treatment when he passed away in 2000.

It was amazing to watch these people make their way around the track.  Some of them were struggling with each step, but all of them had someone there to help them along.  I guess that’s what this is all about. The event organizers then called for the caregivers, each identified by a special t-shirt, to make the next lap with the survivors. And the caregivers deserve as much admiration as the survivors for taking those first, few laps around that track. They are the backbone that holds these families together during their struggle with this devastating disease.

I know that my mom was always at my father’s side as they spent day after day some 200 miles away from my sister and me so that my father could receive the best treatment available at that time. My mom took care of my father through his chemotherapy, then radiation, and then surgery to remove the bones from his leg.  She cared for him through the complications and staph infections that followed. I know that there were times when she wanted to give up, but she hung in there through every trying and worthwhile moment. And it was all worth it. After years of recovery and learning to walk with a titanium rod from pelvis to ankle, a rod that replaced his femur, tibia and fibula, my father survived.  My father was cancer free until he eventually succumbed on May 1, 2000 following a lengthy and overwhelming battle against liver disease. The treatments that saved his life 13 years earlier had taken such a toll on his body that he was unable to fight the effects any longer.

I felt empowered throughout most of the night. As most of you know, I am not the most physically active person on the block, so the idea of walking in a relay for 18 hours was sort of scary for me. I was afraid that I would fail, that I would not have the necessary stamina to complete my portion of the relay. It was amazing what a little inspiration, some Sister Hazel on the iPod, and plain ‘ol determination can do. I will not pretend that I walked for hours and hours, but I did complete my turn with ease.  And I was ready to do it again when my turn came around once more.  The time never came for me to walk again because everyone wanted to walk. We had complete strangers volunteer to walk for us during the late night and early morning hours.

Everyone wanted to walk.  It was nothing more than a few laps around a track, and the walking itself did not raise money for the fight, but it was energizing to know that everyone on that field was there for the same, exact reason. They were there because they have HOPE and because they believe that a cure will be found. I will never again take the position that I am only one person because I have seen first hand what can happen when one person joins hands with another person and another person and so on. I have experienced how a series of individuals can make change happen.

Later in the evening, the Luminaria ceremony began. “When the sun goes down, hundreds of luminarias light the way under the stars and a moment of silence falls during the ceremony of hope. Luminarias are glowing bags that on first glance appear to be nothing more than paper sacks filled with sand and candles. But upon closer examination, these bags represent people, each with a name and a story to tell.” During this ceremony, someone began singing Amazing Grace a cappella. It was in the instant I heard the first few words of this song that I was taken back to my father’s funeral. This was the first time that I had heard this song performed live since that day back in May, 2000. I was overcome with grief and sadness and for a moment, loneliness.  I had drifted off to a place that was sad and dark.  A place where I was alone.

But then I felt arms tightening around me, holding me as close as possible.  I was brought back to where I am now.  Where I am now is the most fantastically fulfilling life that I could have ever imagined. Even in my most elaborate fantasies I could not imagine a life like this. I am in this place because of my man, my rescuer, my Gil. He is the one who inspires me to be the best person I can be, to help others as often as I can, and to just live life. As I put these feeling into words, it’s almost uncanny how the ideas that my father sowed in me years ago are being nourished, nurtured and cultivated by this man. My man. My Gil. To say that he inspires me would simply not do justice to how I feel about him.

Gil is the reason I took this walk on Friday.

This is the reason Gil walks.
And this is the reason I will continue to walk year after year.

There was another song performed at my father’s funeral.  The song was “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn.  These are the lyrics.

I remember Daddy’s hands
Folded silently in prayer
And reaching out to hold me
When I had a nightmare
You could read quite a story
In the callouses and lines
Years of work and worry
Had left their mark behind

I remember Daddy’s hands
How they held my Mama tight
And patted my back
For something done right
There are things I’ve forgotten
That I loved about the man
But I’ll always remember
The love in Daddy’s hands

Daddy’s hands / Were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands / Were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands / Weren’t always gentle but I’d come to understand
There was always love in Daddy’s hands

I remember Daddy’s hands
Working til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly
Just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over
I’d live my life again
And never take for granted
The love in Daddy’s hands

Daddy’s hands / Were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands / Were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands / Weren’t always gentle but I’d come to understand
There was always love in Daddy’s hands

I will never forget my father’s hands and how they molded and shaped the woman that I am today. And I have no doubt that he would give his blessings to the hands that hold me now.

I love you Gil!

Click here for more on Daddy’s Hands.

One thought on “Leelee’s Relay for Life Experience

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