Cancer Lesson #81: I Am Hope.

Cancer Lesson #81: I am hope.

When I did the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life a few weeks ago, I didn’t introduce myself with the rest of the survivors. This year, it felt a little too self-congratulatory, celebrating a result over which I had minimal control.

My mind began to shift, however, when the “Honorary Survivors” spoke. The “Junior Honorary Survivor,” who was about fourteen, talked about how she understands there are some things you can change and some you can’t. She said how important it was to focus on what we can do, instead of worrying about what we can’t, which I thought was very wise for one so young.

The adult spokesperson was a theirteen-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. This is almost a miracle, and that fact alone made me begin to think a little differently. (The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research quotes the American Cancer Society as giving an average five-year survival rate of about 6%.)

My perspective began to change that day, but the lightbulb moment came when I was folding a load of laundry earlier this week.

I am hope. I am hope. I am hope. FullSizeRender-2
On t-shirt after t-shirt, the message stared up at me. IMG_0347

I am hope.

Not because I did anything special.  And certainly not because I deserve it more than those who are gone. But just as my friends’ deaths were beyond my control,  I also don’t want to change the fact that I’m still here.

It’s time to focus on what I can control , to consider what I can try to be for others.

A beam of light to those who are beginning treatment.
A voice of — if not reason — then at least perspective on what the future might look like.

I am the hope, that five years after surgery and chemo, you can still ride a bike, play soccer as badly as you did before, enjoy your family and loved ones.

I am the hope that, like me, you might take a little extra time to appreciate the beauty of our world — the green of the trees, the glimmer of sun on water, and yes, even the raucous cacophony of cicadas.

I am the hope that you will survive to become hope too.

And I am the hope that we will always remember those who didn’t.IMG_0348

Namaste, Pat, Dale, Maribeth, and everyone else who is no longer with us.
The light within me salutes the light within you, the light that lingers on in those you loved.



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.