Relay for Life – celebrating heroes and honoring memories

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is the world’s largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer. It unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all. On Friday evening, the Barton County Relay for Life event will take place in the Great Bend City Auditorium in Great Bend, Kansas. 20 teams and 229 participants have raised $68,758.80.

In the summer of 1998, I experienced my first Barton County Relay for Life, walking alongside my best friend and hero, my grandmother.

She had seen enough of cancer by that summer. Her sister, Ruby, who lived with her and grandpa, passed from cancer on away January 15th, 1995. I remember the final days leading up to her passing. Grandma stayed up day and night by Ruby’s bedside. You could see the immense sadness in her eyes as she watched helplessly as her sister suffered. She hoped she would not witness the horrible affects of cancer again.

Then only about a year or so later, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. Recent memories of Ruby’s battle flooded her mind. She was once again filled with sadness as cancer came back to haunt their household.

In 1997, while most people were getting ready for the holiday season, grandma was facing yet again more haunting news. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On December 10th, 1997, just a couple of days after her surgery, Grandpa passed away. The cloud of sadness that hung over the house when Ruby passed away grew sadder and darker when cancer claimed the life of her beloved husband, Irvin.

Grandma had her fill. Cancer was not going to defeat her in the same way it claimed those she loved. Only a few days after grandpa’s funeral, grandma was back to work, determined that she would not allow the disease to do any more harm. She was a loving childcare provider. However, cancer tried her patience and was about to learn a lesson that all of her daycare children knew, “no means no.”

By that summer, grandma had indeed defeated cancer. Her “no” led to that victorious moment in June at the Relay for Life when she could walk alongside others taking the first lap of the event, the survivors lap. There were well over a hundred of them, wearing bright yellow shirts. Men, women, and children. All races, all creeds. Their diversity proved cancer did not discrimate. Their survival proved that it didn’t always win.

It was a proud moment for grandma. She walked in memory of Irvin, Ruby, and all those she loved.

History has a way of repeating itself.

In December of 2014, Grandma went to the doctor for bronchitis. Some tests revealed that perhaps there was more to be concerned about than simply bronchitis. It didn’t seem possible. She was perfectly healthy. She spent most of the summer accompanying me on the campaign trail, at 81 years old, she was still working as a child care provider, she still went out to dinner every Saturday night with her friends.

That cloud of sadness, filled with grim memories, once again returned. On December 17th, 2014, Grandma was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer.

She was determined to fight again though, she was older now than when she fought her first battle. She gave it her very best.

At 10:45am on Monday, April 13th, 2015, cancer took my best friend and hero, my grandmother.

I miss her.

There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t shed a tear, wishing for just a little more time with her. As painful as it is to imagine, my hero won’t be with me at Relay for Life this year. She’s watching from above where she enjoys the ultimate victory in a place where cancer can do no more harm.

The Relay for Life is special. It celebrates heroes and honors memories.

For those whose lives have been impacted by cancer, the event organizers and volunteers are heroes. The cancer survivors walking that ceremonious victory lap are heroes. The recently diagnosed who still walk are heroes. The 20 teams and 229 participants are heroes.

To all of those heroes and those who walk in memory of my grandmother, thank you.

May it be blessed and create cherished memories, like it did for me, in the summer of 1998.