Relay for Life has personal meaning |

Relay for Life has personal meaning

by Leesa Park

I asked myself at 3:09 a.m. Sunday morning, “What am I doing walking around this track all by myself at this time of morning, like some exercise crazed nut?” Ha, that I am not. Then I turned the corner where more than 120 luminarias lit the track, each candle light honoring a cancer survivor or placed there in memory of a cancer victim, and I realized that was why I was there.

I had agreed to be a team captain of the Soroptimist International of Carson Valley relay team for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at Aspen Park. This was the first time the fund-raiser was to be held locally. I wanted to be a part of this event to repay the Cancer Society for the financial help I was provided some years ago when I underwent cancer treatments for leukemia. Being a cancer survivor is not something I talk about much, I never wanted the attention. I prefer the “get on with it” theory, and never handled the pity or sympathy very well, even during the period I was taking chemotherapy and other treatments. The closer we got to the date of the event, the more I did not want to be involved. I had every reason to say, “I can’t.” My 110-year-old grandfather passed away a week ago, and his funeral was in Idaho on Saturday. I came up with 15 other reasons why I couldn’t – but for some reason I honored my commitment. And I’m so very glad I did.

I think most of us really didn’t know what to expect. We only knew that our job was to collect sponsor donations and then show up to be on a team that would have at least one participant on the track at all times for the 14-hour marathon relay. Sounded simple enough. I headed up our team with 11 participants, who raised more than $2,000 in donations.

As we prepared for the opening ceremonies, we all suited up in our special relay shirts, many designating those of us who were survivors. I began to realize we were all about to participate in something that was very special. Promptly at 6 p.m. everyone gathered at the starting line. Sen. Lawrence Jacobson was on hand to give us some inspirational words and thanked us for giving our time and effort for such a worthy cause.

Pastor Leo Krueger offered the benediction and we were given the official start.

The first lap was to be made by cancer survivors, and there I was walking with two of my sisters in Soroptimists, Linda Leiss and Cora Hansen. It was very moving and I walked with a lump in my throat as we began the relay. After the first lap the entire team began to take turns doing laps. We walked together, with friends, teammates and sometimes with members of the other eight teams. It was a perfect opportunity to hear stories, some happy and hopeful, many sad, but all unique. We had lots of laughs, but shared many tears, too. Along the track there were signs posted from the American Cancer Society that thanked the participants for raising dollars that went to support cancer research, education and patient services. Other signs talked about using sunscreen to prevent cancer and the importance of eating healthy, performing self-breast exams and mammograms for early detection. One sign said, “If you smoke – STOP.”

A teammate immediately halted, and confessed she couldn’t go any further. We assured her she could keep walking and to not take the sign literally. At one point, we had a lap in honor of little 9-year-old Katie Helling who died of cancer two years ago. I had the opportunity of walking with Katie’s neighbor Norma Beckerdite and she told me some great stories about this little girl who will be greatly missed (again, I remembered why I was there).

At 9 p.m., we had the “Mile of Hope Ceremony” to honor survivors and remember victims. This is where the luminarias were lit and special messages were read. I don’t think there was one dry eye in the group. This was so very meaningful as many folks sent messages to friends, relatives and loved ones who had lost the battle to cancer and others paid tribute to those who had survived.

My husband had a luminaria lit and his message, which said he was thankful I had beat cancer, otherwise he’d have never met and married his soulmate, touched me deeply.

This event really was a celebration of life and it was remarkable that there were folks who participated from all age groups, male and female, and various physical conditions. I realized in taking part in this event that it really wasn’t a race around a track, but a race to help find a cure, support the research and education and help fund patient services. The synergism that was created in those 14 hours is something that I will not soon forget.

Even the hours between the times I personally was on the track, I found myself not being able to get any sleep, but reflected on my own successful fight with cancer and the other stories I had heard throughout the night. And as I walked past those luminarias, many still lighting the way at 3:09 in the morning, it seemed not coincidence that some of the lights had gone out. I knew then this was really why I chose to participate, and I hope our efforts will help keep many of those lights burning in the future.

I also want to thank these special people for sharing 14 hours of hope with me – my team: Linda Leiss, Rose Towner, Cora Hansen, Linda Faff, Didi Chaney, Wendy Erven-Smalley, Liz Bricker, Renee Mack, Mindy Richards and Sharon Grecian. Also our supportive “Soroptimisters,” Mickey Park, Tom Cook, Gary Leiss, Stacey Smalley and Darrel Bricker.

Special thanks should also go to Susan Sanford, coordinator of the event for the local American Cancer Society and all her helpers. I challenge all of you who read this to take part in a very moving event next year. Do it for someone you know who is fighting cancer or has lost the battle. I know you’ll be glad you did.

n Leesa Park is advertising manager of The Record-Courier.