Relay For Life - best party of the year
The first time I heard about Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society's 24-hour, marathon fundraiser, I did not get it. Who would want to walk a track all night? That sounded downright tedious.
I didn't get it then, but I do now. Because I discovered that Relay For Life just might be the best party of the year. As the name implies, it is a celebration of life - and the hope of a world free from cancer. We should all spend a bit more time rejoicing in how lucky we all are to be here.
It is also a time to remember - in tears and in laughter - those who are no longer with us on Earth, but who live on forever in the candles we light for them.
And it is a time of empowerment as we fight back against a disease that touches all of us in some way.
I know this now, but it took going to Relay for me to understand what it's all about. My first year, I hate to say, I went begrudgingly. The Index-Tribune, a longtime supporter of Relay, has always had a team and, as the new kid on the block in 2007, I felt obligated to take part. I signed up for a measly hour of walking in the afternoon, somewhat put off that I was going to spend a chunk of my Saturday out on the track in the hot summer sun. Oh, how little I knew.
I stepped out on the track, into the sea of walkers busily making their way around. After one lap, I had made two new friends - a pair of elderly women, both cancer survivors, who told me about how Relay gives them a chance to celebrate the immense accomplishment of beating chemo and radiation.
By the end of the hour, I didn't want to leave. So I didn't. I stayed and listened to the music, watched kids bounce in the jumpy house and saw city officials get soaked in the dunk tank. I left thinking, "What a fun event."
Little did I know, just two months later, the American Cancer Society would play a pivotal roll in my life. That September, the love of my life was diagnosed with a rare form of chronic leukemia. I immediately wanted to know everything about the disease. My research showed me that prior to 2001, the disease was all but a death sentence for those who did not have a good match for a stem cell transplant (aka bone marrow transplant), like my now-husband.
But we were lucky. In 2001 a targeted form of chemotherapy came on the market that proved to be life-saving for those with his type of chronic leukemia. This miracle drug may never have hit the shelves without the efforts of the American Cancer Society, who fought tirelessly to make it available to all. Today, my husband, Matt, proudly walks in the Survivors Lap that opens Relay For Life each year. His name lights up in the luminaria bag I make him.
If you or someone you love has dealt with cancer, it is more than likely that the American Cancer Society has played a role, either in funding research into treatments or in providing service programs that make cancer more bearable.
Relay For Life is not an event you can explain in words, it's an event you must experience. And I invite you all to come and take it in. You don't have to pay money to come, just enjoy the day's music festival and other fun offerings.
But you do need to be there, if for no other reason than to stand up to cancer and say, "Get the hell outta here."
Find out more, or register in advance, at www.RelayForLife.org/SonomaCa.
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Emily Charrier-Botts is the entertainment editor for the Index-Tribune.