Friday, June 13, 2008

Relay for Life

We're back from vacation, but our misadventures in the Wild West will have to wait a few days. Tonight I need to share about our local Relay for Life event (American Cancer Society) because--holy cow--what a night it was.

I'd heard of the Relay for Life before. My Aunt Shirley Eileen, who is a Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor, participates in the Relay for Life in Columbus every year. I always contributed, but I only vaguely knew what it was. Until tonight.

Earlier this spring, our dentist's office told us there were forming a Relay for Life team and would we mind of they walked in honor of Finn? Of course not! Every opportunity to support the cancer cause is A-OK with us. But still, I didn't really get what the event was all about until we got there tonight.

Finn was asked to lead the survivor's lap, and the organizers also wanted him to get up on the stage and say something before the event started. We spent the last few days trying to prep Finn for this, but in case he wouldn't talk when we got up there, I was supposed to say a few words about Finn's cancer journey. No problem. I've done it before.

We arrived about 20 minutes prior to the start and there were tents all over the place--literally Tent City. Each team had a tent that was decorated according to a the theme: Children's stories. Our dentist's team was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There was also Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel, Thomas the Tank Engine, Cat in the Hat, Wizard of Oz, and more which my feeble brain have forgotten.

We walked around the track looking for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tent. The track was lined with luminaria bags--each was in honor or in memory of someone. Finn had decorated his bag and Declan found it right away. As we walked along, I started reading the names and the messages. . .and there I was, walking around the track crying. People had written the most poignant things: "You'll always live on through your children. . .I miss you more than ever. . .Forever in our hearts. . ." It was gutwrenching. And suddenly, I realized that if I was crying just walking around reading these messages, what was going to happen when I got up on stage with Finn? Self-fulfilling prophecy anyone?

Finn got his survivor shirt and he was introduced. We went up on stage. I turned and looked at the crowd. And I could not speak. At all. I've never been in front of a crowd and become so totally emotional. I turned to Finn to see if he would say his little spiel, which was supposed to be: "Thank you for raising money to cure cancer because having cancer is hard." But he was hit with a wave of stage fright. And there I was totally verklempt. UGH. I couldn't choke anything out for the longest time. You know how you see people get emotional sometimes in front of a crowd and they're just standing there by themselves and you're thinking AWKWARD!? Someone please help that poor sod. Yeah, that would be me. I didn't know what to do. Every time I tried to talk, I sobbed and croaked out a few incoherent words. UGH. I'm cringing just thinking about it. But finally I squeaked out something like (and of course, this wasn't at all what I had meticulously planned to say): "I'm so overwhelmed. Seeing all of you here. . .seeing all of these bags and all of the names. . .(insert a couple of sobs and gasps here). . .four years ago this day didn't seem possible (meaning that Finn would be a survivor, but I was too incoherent to add that and clarify what I actually wanted to say!). . ." And then I turned to Finn and tried to get him to say his part. As I knelt down to him and he was hiding behind me, Declan put his arm around both me and Finn and said incredulously, "Are you CRYING??? WHY are you CRYING???? " That made me laugh a little bit and then Finn was able to say thank you and part of his little speech. And that was it. I was still a sobbing wreck and had to say that I couldn't say anything more.

If I was thinking to myself that I can "get over" Finn's cancer, well, I might have to rethink that.

So after my on-stage blubbering, people graciously came up and hugged me, which helped me feel like less of a dope. And then I really started looking around and realizing how many people we knew there. A teacher from Declan's school--survivor. A PTA parent--survivor. Neighbors on our street--walking in honor of a family member. Lady who works at the post office--volunteering. And just a whole host of survivors, all with their own stories, and a whole host of friends and family members there to honor and remember.

While the boys enjoyed the bouncy castles, I walked around the track reading the bags. I suddenly stopped to photograph one. I'm not sure why I chose that particular one, maybe because it had a photo on it, maybe because the words spoke to me. But as I was taking a picture, a woman came up to me and said, "That's my Dad." And she started crying. We started walking around the track and she told me about her Dad--diagnosed with lung cancer last October, he had come to live with her and her daughters. Chemotherapy didn't work on his aggressive cancer and he died in December. They buried him on Christmas Eve. She holds onto the memory that he got to see his granddaughter dance in the Nutcracker just before he died. And for every bag on that track, there was a story like that. And I think that was what kept making me cry tonight. All of the people, all of the stories, all of the lives. Finn. . .Aunt June. . .Aunt Kathy. . .Aunt Shirley Eileen. . .Aunt Shirley Ann. . .Uncle John. . .Uncle Phil. . .Grandpa Moffitt. . .Craig. . .

So, here's a little slideshow of the Relay for Life tonight.


MakesMeSmile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MakesMeSmile said...

As a follower of Finn since he was in Columbus - all I can say is MY how he has grown! Kudos to you, I could never stand on a stage and address anyone, especially if already tearful. Thanks for the slideshow link. My favorite pic? The one which is entitled "run Little Survivor, Run!"

Grove City OH
P.S. That was me deleting my own comment up there. Someday I will learn to type LOL

1dreamr said...

Beautiful post, beautiful pictures, beautiful child. What a wonderful event -- it sounds like perhaps a new tradition began that night for your family. And, good for you getting up there in front of all those people. Heck, I was crying just sitting here looking at the photos - don't know how you did it, but great job! :-)

Mountain Mama said...

What an amazing event. What an honor to be able to attend ~ with your child that has survived. I know you standing up there with Finn was a testimony to many. Even if you did blubber through it. What a neat picture to see a Mom who has fought the (long and hard) fight with her son. A true miracle!!

Anonymous said...

Were there many childhood cancer survivors there. I know locally many pediatric cancer families have stopped going. They believe the American Cancer Societies 4% donation to childhood cancers isn't enough when they use our bald or off treatment survivor kids as there incentive to get funds.

I do it because not only is our child a survivor but we've had family members (adults) die from cancer.

Thanks for sharing.

Kim Anderson said...

What a beautiful posting! It was an honor to have your family at the Relay. It is an amazing and powerful night for all participants. I'm glad we could have our little "honorary" survivor to share the night with!

dental hygiene jamie said...

We are just so happy that all of you could attend this event! I think it was a wonderful way to celebrate Finn's SURVIVOR status! He's a fighter, and all of you his support system. Natalie, you did an amazing job speaking...it really touched us all. What we saw was raw emotion and tears of survival. After the opening ceremonies, we saw the Rooney family having a good time-- that is what it was all about! Thank you for being a part of it all!