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Why Relay for Life is so important

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POSTED March 25, 2009 4:32 a.m.
Compassion is commonly defined as a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. The Buddha says, “compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others.”

To give back and to look out for each other is vital to our society’s existence. I heard somewhere before to “take up a cause worth fighting for.” I choose to fight for the lives of existing and future cancer patients through Relay for Life. I choose to donate my time and money so the American Cancer Society can continue to find new treatments that fight cancer cells and improve the quality of life for those living with cancer.

My own life has been repeatedly affected by cancer. Growing up, I lost 3 grandparents to cancer and celebrated my grandmother and aunt winning their battles with the disease. Most notably is my own mother’s courageous, unending battle with cancer. It started in 2001 when I was 19, a breast cancer diagnosis that led to a single mastectomy and 6 months of chemotherapy. As she lost her hair and dealt with the side-effects of treatment, the American Cancer Society provided her with free wigs and classes to help her deal with the side effects. Look Good, Feel Better was a class that provided her with free designer make-up and lessons and education on applying make-up while dealing with changes in the skin from the cancer drugs.

During that time, my boyfriend’s mother received her own shocking diagnosis. She was told she had lung cancer that would require rigorous radiation treatments to her already frail body. She had been stricken with Multiple Sclerosis for 14 years prior. After 10 treatments, she was put in the hospital and given blood transfusions and I.V. antibiotics. She was brought home on Christmas day and given six months to live.

I split my time caring for both of them. I missed only two of my mom’s chemotherapy treatments and helped care for my boyfriend’s mother while I went to school. Sadly, she passed just before her 50th birthday in the summer of 2002.

My own mom went nearly 5 years cancer free; or so we thought. It took 6 months to diagnose that her cancer had returned in her lungs. When cancer returns, it is automatically Stage 4 and in-operable. This means that there are cancer cells floating that can only be managed with treatment, not removed. Since her most recent diagnosis in 2007, she has been on 3 different drugs to battle her cancer. She is currently responding well to the current drug, Navilbine. Her last scan showed some of the cancer lesions had grown, some had shrank.

As they continue to monitor the effects of new drugs on millions of cancer patients, her chances of survival increase. I am so very grateful to her primary care physician and nurse practitioner for detecting her cancer: Dr. Bobson and Susan Nylen at North Street Family Practice. Beyond that, any cancer patient deserves a great oncologist and the many people working behind them. Dr. Mehdi and the staff at Stockton Hematology and Oncology are some of the most amazing people I have encountered. I credit them with keeping my mom alive and her hopes high!

They have inspired me to fight for cancer research and the lives of cancer patients all over the world. Through Relay for Life, I can give back to the doctors, nurses and scientists working so diligently to find tolerable treatments and, inevitably, a cure for cancer in our lifetime.

Relay for Life, a 24-hour team event to fight cancer, is the signature fundraising activity of the American Cancer Society. Each Relay is made up of teams of 10-20 participants who take turns running or walking around a local track to raise money for research, cancer education, patient service programs, and advocacy. (I mentioned Look Good, Feel Better above while my mom was treating; one of many programs). In 2005, more than 4,300 communities nationwide hosted a Relay and with the help of people like you, Relay for Life has become the largest activity of its kind, raising more than $375 million in 2006! But more than a fundraiser, Relay for Life is:

A time to honor cancer survivors
At every Relay for Life, all cancer survivors in the community are honored for their courage and strength by kicking off the event in the Survivors’ Lap. Survivors are celebrated throughout the day with complimentary breakfast, a free T-shirt, games and more! Any survivors can register online at: www.relayforlife.org/mantecaca. Please join us!

A community united
Few events bring together all components of a community like Relay for Life. Games, food, fun, music, and activities fill the air of every Relay for Life as everyone unites to help eliminate cancer!

A ceremony of hope and remembrance
Survivors and those who are no longer with us are honored at this one-of-a-kind ceremony. Paper bags bearing the names of loved ones are filled with sand and a small candle that is lit at dusk. These bags line the track and are left burning throughout the night. This moving, memorable ceremony is often the most powerful time of the entire Relay for Life.
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