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Moments Remembered From The Sidelines
Cancer survivors Marilyn Boatright, far left, Debra Baird and Dawn Jerkins lead the pack for the opening survivor lap. This lap serves as the ceremonial beginning of Relay for Life worldwide as the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event. - photo by TERESA HAMMOND
Those who know me, know that I am not one often at a loss for words. Opinionated, chatty, excessive talker; these are all titles I know have been attached to my name. Column writing I feel is a simple extension of this gift for gab. It is an opportunity to place unsolicited thoughts and opinions into a format read by many.
Yet somehow, less than 24 hours following the conclusion of Oakdale’s Eighth Annual Relay for Life, I am at a loss for words. The challenge here does not seem to lie with a lack of thoughts and emotion, because there are many buzzing through my head. The challenge is where to begin.
This year was the first year in my seven years of involvement with this event that I chose to just be a participant. I have ‘relayed’ as a team captain, while my husband served our country abroad. As a committee member pregnant with my first child, only to show up the following year carting that same child to businesses and service group meetings trying to inspire people to start a team or donate to the event. And as the event chairperson in 2007 while pregnant with my daughter.
While I will always be proud of what I was able to contribute to the event during each of these years, Saturday, April 25, 2009 will be the Relay I will long remember.
As a participant I was able to watch from the sidelines and appreciate so much of what this mega event truly is.
With two young children at my side, I love living in the moment. Stopping to watch a butterfly perched on a rose petal, listening to baby birds chirp from a nest or accepting a hug from a long-not-seen friend.
This year there were many moments at Relay I will not soon forget.
The first and most touching of these moments was seeing the faces of the Dickens family. His brothers, his wife and his sons circling the track in his honor. They were all out in full force to support an event which last year at this time supported their loved one, Mark Dickens. Barely one week following his passing, I found their actions inspiring and telling at the same time. Their presence was a tribute to a man they loved. While I did not know Mark personally, watching his family and how they have weathered this tragedy has truly been an honor.
Then there was the moment just days prior to the event when a girlfriend shared the struggles she faced with being a participant. While in their 20s she lost her sister to cancer, this is a void that still holds a lot of emotion for her and her family. As we spoke of her struggle she shared how hard it was to face that she would not have a purple shirt to cheer and support during the opening lap (the purple shirt is the signature color worn by survivors).
She described this emotion as selfish, while I reminded her it was not selfish but honest. ‘That is one of the best things about this event,’ I shared. All emotions are welcome. Everyone who is there has somehow been touched by cancer. There is no judgment, only love and understanding.
That Saturday was filled with activity. Watching my children run around the track, dance on the stage and accept hugs from so many who have come to know them is something I will remember for a lifetime.
As darkness fell we all assembled at the main stage for the luminaria ceremony. A time when everyone gathers for a moving tribute and an I-movie jam packed with survivors and their loved ones.
As my son and I settled in on our blanket and snuggled to ward off the cold, I took a quick look to my right. With a clear path between myself and the track, all I could see was an empty track lined with hundreds of glowing white bags. For eight years I have circled the track following the luminaria ceremony. I have read the names and the sentiments placed on each bag, but this is a moment I will not soon forget. The beauty of those bags and what they represent literally took my breath away. Every year from now on, I will take a moment to sit and take in this beauty. There is something about these simple white bags that changes when you are at their level. I cannot fully describe it but encourage everyone to sit for a moment in coming years and take it in.
As sunrise came Sunday morning, the air was once again filled with hope. This relay year was one that challenged its committee. Participation and sponsorship had dropped, yet that morning as I returned to the track I could feel that as a community we had done something great.
As the final estimate of $200,000 raised was reported, a sense of pride filled the crowd. This was not a record-breaking year for Oakdale’s Relay for Life. It was not the year that will have other events throughout the state talking of this small town in the Central Valley and all we accomplish.
This was the year, however, that I remembered why I relay and why I am so proud to call this community my home. This is the year we remembered that while we may be small, we are mighty and together we can accomplish great things.
Lastly, this was the year that this event said goodbye to one event chair and welcomed in the next. Dawn Jerkins, a cancer survivor, will be the first survivor to lead Oakdale’s Relay for Life. As a past chair, I know the task ahead of her will be a challenge, she will learn much about herself she may not have known. She will also learn much about this community and those who support her that will change her life forever.
Great job, Oakdale. I will see you all in 2010, where once again we will celebrate our survivors, remember those we have lost, fight back against this dragon named cancer and hope for a future which might someday not be filled by cancer.