Last weekend a handful of students organized the school’s first Relay for Life. According to the American Cancer Society site, Relay for Life is a “team fundraising event where team members take turns walking around a track. Each event is 6-24 hours in length and each team is asked to have a member on the track at all times to signify that cancer never sleeps.” Our event started at 8 pm and the student leaders organized teams to walk throughout the night. Knowing that I faced dorm duty on Sunday night, I passed on the all-nighter but agreed to speak at the Opening Ceremonies as a cancer survivor. It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to speak about my year with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and most of the students didn’t know about that chapter which I consider a good thing. One of my favorite moments was when a boy from my dorm found me and asked, “ I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?!”
So here’s what I didn’t know: part of the Relay for Life program is the Survivors’ Lap. After Opening Ceremonies and my talk, the student leaders invited me to join them on the track where two seniors held a Cancer Survivors Banner. I awkwardly waited to see who else was joining us for the ceremonial first lap around the track…….and you know how people say, “You’ll never walk alone"? Yeah, well, I did.
To be honest, I can’t remember the song playing through the speakers, perhaps Celine Dion, but one of the students assured me that she had hand-picked it for this moment. And so began our lap. Our slow lap. (Think bridesmaid walking down the aisle….) One of the banner carriers is in my dorm, and I almost had him convinced to begin a slow jog, but the other student, a lovely young woman from Thailand, insisted that I deserved this moment of dignity. I tried to hide my mortification and act dignified but I’m not sure I was very successful.
Students lined the track, clapping and cheering for me as we solemnly and slowly marched behind the banner. One enthusiastic girl raced from one corner of the track to the other, cheering and whooping as if I had just finished the Boston Marathon. My advisees waved and filmed, assuring me later that they got it on Snapchat. (Thanks, kids!) Eventually, I reached the area of the track where my colleagues and husband stood, most laughing at my discomfort, some laughing so hard they were crying. (Thanks, friends! ) I’ve walked that track hundreds of times in my many years here, and I never knew one lap could last so long!
I headed home around 11 pm, but many of my colleagues and students’ parents showed up to chaperone, walk the track with the kids, and cheer them on; walking at 3 am isn’t as fun as it was at midnight. As I left, one girl hugged me goodnight and said, "I bet you can't wait until next year!"
Here’s the great news: these fantastic students raised $10,000 on their first Relay for Life!