Archived Story

Why I relay

Published 10:40am Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The last time I went to Relay for Life was two years ago as a junior at Auburn University.

I signed up to participate with the Honors College. I petitioned my friends and family, I helped beg for donations on the concourse and I spent an afternoon making cakes and cookies for our bake sale.

That night I showed up early for a special survivorship dinner. They catered Moe’s.

I wasn’t really sure whether I should be there. After all, I was years off chemotherapy – years into remission. I felt pretty far removed from my experience with cancer.

But I ate my free burrito and then went to help my team set up our booth.

I walked around admiring and taking note of the different fundraisers that would be going on that night – I think there were five or six bake sales. Alas.

I was there, but I wasn’t tuned in. It wasn’t an emotional thing for me.

Until the first lap.

The first lap has traditionally been reserved for the survivors, and I committed myself to walking it.

Thoughts are resurfacing as I type of the first Relay for Life I ever attended. I guess I was 11 years – a brand new survivor of leukemia. A group of my friends and their parents had a team in honor of another guy and me. I didn’t walk the survivor lap that year – didn’t feel like it, much to my mother’s disappointment.

But this year I took my place with about a dozen other survivors inside Auburn’s Beard Eaves Coliseum. We carried a long banner and walked around the course to cheers from all the team participants.

Tears rolled down my face as I thought of all the people I knew who had been affected by cancer – the survivors and the casualties.

I let their names cycle through my mind as I walked. And I walked for me, but, more importantly, I walked for them.

I walked for Liz. I walked for Brad. I walked for Uncle Junior and Granny Betty and Pa Oval and Savannah and Chelsea.

Then we had the luminaria ceremony – we walked in dark silence around a track lit only with flickering candles inside white paper sacks. I made myself read every name, and again I choked back tears.

I know not everyone supports Relay for Life. I know there are questions about how the money is used and whether it’s really about eliminating cancer or if it’s just a “rah-rah” kind of event.

But that night I felt the power of a ceremony dedicated to celebrating, remembering and fighting back.

Everyone – EVERYONE – either knows someone who had cancer or has had it themselves.

I haven’t joined a team this year, and as a 20-something wife in the journalism field whose husband is still in school, I don’t have a lot of money. But to the Tallapoosa County Relay for Life, I will donate what I can, and I plan to attend this event.

Because I’ve been there.

That’s why I relay.

James is a staff writer for The Outlook.