Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Relay For Life 2012: My Story

Almost two years ago, when I sat down and created my list of 101 Things to Do in 1001 Days, one of the items I put on was this:

#50 – Walk for a cause.

At the time, I had no idea what my “cause” would be. 

Back then, my dad’s health issues were only just starting to become a little more serious, but our concern really was his worsening COPD.  It was still very much unknown to us that it would eventually be cancer that took him down.

He was diagnosed with bowel cancer late last year, and underwent surgery in early January 2012.  It was supposed to be a simple surgery to remove a small part of his bowel where they’d discovered a small growth.  Instead, it turned into what they called a “galloping tumor”, and the cancer had spread everywhere.  After a month spent in ICU fighting for his life, Dad succumbed to this terrible illness.


Shortly after, I started hearing rumblings of the upcoming Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, scheduled for June 2, 2012 in our area.  And for the first time, I knew what my cause was.

I was going to walk in memory of Dad.

I approached my Aunt Mona, who I knew walked every year, and she quickly got me the information I needed to join her team, The Dancing Daffodils.  And then I started fundraising, eventually ending up with over $500 thanks to the wonderful support of my family and friends.

Before I knew it, June 2nd was here, and I was up at the Shawville Fairgrounds with my team, and so many others, ready to walk all night.

And that’s exactly what we did!!

It was an amazing night, and I’m so thankful I was able to participate; for Dad, and for the countless others who have been effected by cancer – far too many.

It didn’t strike me until the luminaries were all lit in memory of lost loved ones and in honour of the survivors.  One of my friends commented how beautiful they all were, and how many of them there were, and my comment was, “I know, it’s awesome.”  

And then the thought hit me like a kick to the stomach.  It’s not awesome…it’s horrible that there are so many of them.  Our community is so small, and there are hundreds – maybe thousands – of these things lining the track.  Too many.  Way too many.

And that, of course, is why we walk.  In the hopes that our money will fund more research and eventually find a cure, so that one day, there are no more luminaries to be lit.  So that no more tears will fall, and no more lives will be lost too soon.

It was a memorable night, filled with poignant moments.  I got a little emotional during the kick-off Survivors Walk at 7 PM, and tried desperately to control it, looking up at the sky and biting my lip – it brought me comfort when I looked around and saw many others fighting tears and doing the same as me.  It was then that I realized I was far from alone.

Photo taken from Facebook

Photo credit: Bonnie Tubman-Zimmerling

The lighting of the luminaries was really my undoing.  I didn’t want to go up there and be an emotional basketcase all night, and I think I did pretty well for the most part, helped greatly by the upbeat atmosphere surrounding the event.  But when I stood with my cousin Donna – herself a cancer survivor, despite her reluctance to be recognized publicly – and lit Dad’s luminaries while Phil Holmes sang “Amazing Grace”…well, let’s just say I was a teary, snotty mess.  (And then Donna told me that’s what long sleeves are for!)


There were other moments too – hearing “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”, one of Dad’s favourites that we sang at his funeral, during the Gospel Hour; and when Dai Basset played Dad’s signature song, “The Green Green Grass of Home” during his set…I thought about him a lot.  And often with a smile.  :)

I also loved and treasure the laps I made with other family and friends who were up there, walking for their own reasons – my team, Donna and Aunt Mona, Debra, Sue, Heather, Sam, Janice, Tracey, Brent, Norma, and Claude; Stacy and Ricky; Josee, Evan, and Steph; Edward; Heather; Amy; Glenna; Kerry-Lynn and Leslie, among so many others.  Our chats helped pass the time and made the laps go more quickly.

In the darkest hours, when the musical acts had packed up for the night and the numbers of walkers had dwindled; when my hips and feet were aching, and my breaks were coming more frequently; when I literally thought, “Nobody would probably care if I quit right now”…I kept going.  Because honestly, the pain and the wind and the cold we were experiencing?  Really, it’s so small – so insignificant – compared to what the people who fight cancer go through.  It seemed silly to quit with that thought in my mind.

Photo credit: Lestanto Photography

Around 4 AM, the skies started to lighten, and by 5 AM, we were starting to pack up and enjoy the muffins and fruit laid out in the hall for us.  At 6:30, they announced that the goal for the Pontiac Relay for Life was $110,000, and we almost reached that, with just over $108,000 (and donations will still be accepted until August.)  We were especially proud and thrilled when The Dancing Daffodils were announced as the 2nd place team for most funds raised, over $4000!!  And our team captain, Debra - who lost her husband to cancer several years ago - had the honor of being one of the three to lead us in the final lap around the track, ending at around 7 AM.

12 hours.  I did it.

I walked all night.

Photo credit: Bonnie Tubman-Zimmerling

Thank you once again to all who helped me along this journey, by sponsoring me or simply offering words of encouragement.  Your support during these past six months has been incredible, and I thought of all of you so often during the night.  You have no idea how much you all mean to me! xo

Everyone up there was walking for different reasons – for lost loved ones; for friends and family who are still fighting; in celebration of survivors.

We all had our reason.  We all walked for a cause.

And we all made a difference.

I know Dad was smiling.


Linking up today for Talk To Us Tuesday, hosted by Impulsive Addict and Shawn.



Lindsay said...

Bah! Now Im a snotty, blubbering mess over here! Great post, great cause and great way to honor your Dad. I am so proud of you and I know he is too! xo

Holly said...

This post gave me goosebumps and tears! Great post for a great cause!

Stacy said...

Glad that I participated as well and it will hopefully be a yearly event and one that eventually I will stay all night but it's hard with the kiddos...I can't spend the next day sleeping when I have two young ones but I made the effort, donated money and bought luminaries. It was a job well done for sure!

Anonymous said...

Aww, I bet you are so glad you did it, even though it was very emotional.

Stacie said...

I told you that it would be an experience that you would not forget. I know your Dad was proud!

Nicole said...

In our lifetime, even if there is a cure found, there will always be survivors! It would be nice to not have to worry about lighting the luminaries, but you're right and ok to say it is a beautiful thing! We're remembering those who have been lost this horrible disease! Unfortunately we'll always have to remember those who were lost. I lost 2 of my grandparents to it! It sucks! And you did such a noble thing. I was on a team in 2009 and there aren't words enough to describe it!

Did yours start out with the survivor walk?

Impulsive Addict said...

What an awesome post! GOOD FOR YOU! You should be so proud of yourself. I'm not sure I could do it. I've been so extremely tired lately and staying up through the night would probably not be an option for me RIGHT NOW but maybe later. It's a great cause and I know your daddy is proud!

Thanks for linking it up with us!!

Shawn said...

I've participated in the Relay for Life before and it is all that you said and so much more. I don't think you can truly grasp the feeling you get unless you're a part of it. Good for you for walking in your Dads honor!

Thanks for joining the party!

Nancy said...

OK, I need Donna's long sleeves....I did not know she is a cancer survivor. I admire you, Jillian. I went to see the Relay in Orleans a couple years ago and when they lit the luminaries for my best friends who died of cancer I lost it completely. I went home and basically cried the rest of the weekend except for church.

I find myself looking for your dad once in a while, like he should be here and isn't. The songs he liked would have done me in. I could just blubber reading the blog and responding. I know he is proud of you and for sure that's one team you won't be cut from!
Hugs and prayers.

Nadine Hightower said...

You Go Girl!

Date Girl said...

Awww, I'm a sniffling mess too. That's beautiful, and your dad was definitely smiling. It's a great cause and you should be proud that you made it through the night! I remember running the half marathon for team in training, which sponsors fundraising for cancer research. I felt like giving up when a survivor goes running past me, full speed. I thought, well if a survivor who went through hell and back can do it, I better get my butt in gear. It was truly motivating!
Hugs to you chica!

Heather Smith said...

Jill... Beautiful writting! Made me have tears!