Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Whirling Dervish, Saving Tata's

This is the time of year I run myself ragged.

I procrastinate really, wait until the very last second and then bust my ass like a whirling dervish to try and accomplish what I need to.

Yup, it's Relay season.

For the past 5 years I have been involved with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. An amazing all night event that is fun, life changing and freaking exhausting.

It started accidentally of course. Let me 'splain.

My best friend Kelly was getting married. She and her now husband had been together for close to a decade and were finally tying the knot. As best friend and bridesmaid, I got to help out along the way. We went to florists, we discussed colors. All those duties one would expect by watching those cheesy shows on TLC or what have you.

In our planning stages, we were invited to go see her DJ in action. A friend of hers from work who had a side business. He was DJing a Relay for Life in Medway, Massachusetts. Not exactly the next town over, so another bridesmaid, the bride and myself packed into the car and drove about an hour away.

We were blown away. THIS was something special. People in costumes and campsites set up all around us. The most positive energy I have ever felt in the air as people walked laps around a track. Smiling, laughing. We of course were there late (after work) so as the evening wore on and we listened to the DJ spin his tunes, the sun was setting and the track lit now by those infamous lights the football players usually get the pleasure of being superstars under.

Football players weren't the stars that night. An announcement was made and suddenly the track grew dark, quiet. All around us were the flicker of candlelight from what we learned were Luminary bags, dedicated to those who were Survivors of Cancer and those who had lost their fight. There was silence, there were tears. A speech given in honor of those touched by the disease and a lap in the glimmering light given off by those dedicated bags.

It was simply amazing.

We decided then and there we wanted to find something similar near where we lived. That we too wanted to somehow take part in this miraculous event. Next year we said. Next year would be our year to make a difference.

Little did we know what next year would entail.

Now back to the wedding. As I said, my best friend and her now husband had been together close to a decade. Naturally, as Murphy's Law would have it, just after she bought her wedding gown, she found out she was pregnant. 10 years together and nothing and as soon as they plan the wedding: BOOM baby.

All taken in stride of course, the wedding took place at an Irish Cottage on a beautiful day in May.

Come October, they had their beautiful daughter Mia. Mia would end up saving Kelly's life.

When Dylan was born, I breastfed. I apparently had enough skill and lactose to support a small 3rd world country. WIC asked me to become a Breast Feeding Counselor and help talk to and support other mother's who were starting in on that journey. So when Dylan was an infant, that's what I did.

Of course all my friends knew this and as they started to have babies, even after I was no longer working for WIC, they would call me. Kelly was no exception. She too tried to nurse Mia and was being met with problems. I gave her every option I was trained on and then it was time to call the doctor.

So off she went and it was deduced she had a clogged milk duct. She would stop breast feeding and switch poor, hungry little Mia over to formula, and then the problem should stop. That bump she felt in that spot should subside and everything should go back to normal.

Months passed since she stopped nursing, and that lump was still there. On a day in February Kelly went to the doctor. They did a quick biopsy. Everything happened in a whirlwind from there.

An emergency Lumpectomy, followed by months of intense Chemo and Radiation. Kelly was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma. And if she hadn't gotten pregnant, it may have gone undetected. Mia saved her life.

We thought back to that day we went to see her DJ. We thought back to the Relay and we knew it was meant to be, we HAD to participate. A woman she worked with happened to be on a team near where we lived, and we of course joined. She and I.

Kelly was undergoing treatment and I had just been released from the hospital after a bad car accident, but damnit we did that Relay. It had become so important to us then. We weren't just fighting for distant elderly relatives we hardly remembered who were taken by this disease, we were fighting for Kelly's life. My best friend.

The next year, we were eager to form our own team, to take what happened to Kelly and involve our friends, our families. We found a Relay in Weymouth, the town next to where we grew up, and we formed a team; she and I co-captains.

Of course, these things like any attempt at a well-oiled non profit machine hold meetings to help you get your bearings, and off I went to what I thought was a team captains meeting. It wasn't. It was a committee meeting. The people who were responsible for putting on the entire event. Volunteers from the community who were made of of Survivors and people eager to help.

I got completely swept away.

I wanted to do anything I could to help. I became a part of that committee. The first year I volunteered to cover breaks. I ran the little store we had, I helped out in the concession stand, the parking lot. I ran around maniacally trying to do anything I could.

We gathered friends and we stayed the night. Each lap a different theme we would costume ourselves and campsite with the years theme (Ahem, we have won "Best Campsite" the last 2 years running I may add). All night long, delirious with exhaustion and overwhelmed by the meaning of what this entire event stands for.

Even Dylan has been on the team since he was 2. Raising his own money (with the help of that cute face begging family members) and getting up at 5am and running laps around the track. He gets excited about it every year.

The next year I became more involved, and more every year since. Last year I went to a Relay for Life University as I was chosen to represent our area and got to meet people from around the country who have participated in this event for the past 26 years. I was the Team Recruitment & Development and Online Chair. I was helping other new teams come up with fundraisers, showing them the ropes. Helping get them set up online and running the Relay's Facebook page.

This year with a busy schedule of work and Dylan's T Ball I haven't been able to attend as many meetings, but I am still very involved. I still run the Facebook, I still help work with teams, all thanks to the beauty of the Internet and email.

I put together a benefit concert for my team every year. Local bands and businesses donating their time and wares to raffle off and put on a show. 100% of the door and raffle proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.

This is something I am passionate about. Something that means so much to me having watched my best friend go through this. She got weak from Chemo, she got 3rd degree burns from Radiation. She had a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery all before she was 30. (and she has been Cancer free for close to 3 years now)

I thought back to how many people in my life had been touched or lost to this horrible disease. A disease that doesn't discriminate. That doesn't choose male over female, young over old. It doesn't choose you by race or social status. It just happens. In so many forms and to so many people.

I lost my paternal grandparents to lung cancer, a great aunt and a neighbor who was my grandmother. I had an aunt who was a breast cancer survivor, going through it when I was so young I had no idea. Friends parents last year died of this horrible disease. I lost a high school friend to Ewing Sarcoma just shy of my graduation. I thought back to all those people, and I knew I had to keep fighting for them.

I have to keep fighting so someday there is an end. That someday my son will live in a world where Cancer is as obsolete as the Bubonic Plague.

I have to keep fighting.
(if you want to help me, please go to Apryl Save The Tata's and donate)


  1. That left me in tears, I cannot emagine what it must feel like to find out you have cancer when you have a new baby.



  2. Examination, examination, examination ... the trifecta. I hope she stays cancer free.

    Sorry for the late read... popped over from FTLOB's Get Fit.


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