Cancer Lesson: Life Is a Relay

Cancer Lesson:  Life is a relay.

I haven’t assigned a number to this cancer lesson because it’s out of order in the story of the lessons I’ve learned. It’s actually a repeat of a post I wrote for my other blog last year. I’m sharing it here because tonight I participated in the 2013 Relay for Life. Beside me walked my friend who was in chemo during last year’s year’s event, as well as a another who was diagnosed just before it. Life is indeed a relay. 

I participated in Relay for Life this weekend, representing my library’s team on the track for an hour last night and during the final shift this morning.

Of course, my thoughts traveled back to the 2011 event, when I was in chemo and able to attend only as a spectator. Unfortunately, this year a good friend of mine was the cancer patient visiting our tent, and we all walked at least partly for her.

As part of Relay fundraising, you can buy luminarias in honor or memory of those who have fought cancer. These candles are lit after dark, and each name is called as participants silently circumnavigate the track.

English: OAK HARBOR, Wash. (June 6, 2008) Lumi...

English: OAK HARBOR, Wash. (June 6, 2008) Luminaries line the Oak Harbor Middle School track for the Relay For Life of North Whidbey. Relay For Life is a fundraiser held by the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research and to promote cancer awareness. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tucker M. Yates (Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a particularly poignant ceremony, and I cried for my two friends who died last year and my cousin and friend who are now in treatment. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to pay back some of the support I received during my own fight, and amazed by the difference a year has made.

This morning, the atmosphere was different. The number of people on the track had dwindled, some of them clearly exhausted from the night before.
But they were still walking.

And finally, it struck me — the lesson my mind had been knitting together over the past twenty-four hours.

It’s this: Life is not a sprint or even a marathon; it’s a relay.

Sometimes we lead so others can rest. Other times, we can take it no longer, and someone else must take charge and be the strong one.

I remember a colleague from many years ago telling me how she and her father dealt with her mother’s long-term illness. “We have a rule,” she said, “only one of us can be crazy at a time.”

At the time, I was a relatively new parent, and thought that was an excellent approach to the huge job my husband and I had taken on in raising our daughter.

After last night, however, I understand this philosophy can be applied much more broadly. Life’s challenges are more easily faced when we can lean on others, and let them lean on us.

I don’t know if the American Cancer Society had this in mind when they established Relay for Life, but for me the event will forever be bound with the relay that is life.


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