Three fingernails. Two toenails. A pound or two. Such was the inventory of things I lost during the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
What I found: life-changing.
When Brian, my assistant editor, asked if I’d join the relay team he was assembling, I didn’t fully comprehend the request. Vaguely, I knew it had to do with walking, and raising money for cancer research. Sure, I thought; I can walk. I do a lot of it, daily.
Support cancer research? Where do I sign up? The list of family members and friends touched by the disease is far too lengthy; its specter always leering at me (you’re next, you smug twit) in the vestibule of my consciousness.
Throughout the year, I learned, the ACS hosts relays worldwide. The events offer local communities the chance to celebrate those who have successfully battled cancer, remember those who have not and join together in an effort to fight back.
So there was little decision-making process involved in signing up. I would traverse the designated course at St. Andrew’s School in Saratoga, taking turns with my fellow teammates. We would have someone walking throughout the relay’s full 24 hours, because “cancer never sleeps.”
At 8:45 a.m. on July 21, we joined the other teams at Crestbrook Field in setting up our booth (where raffle/auction items would be displayed) and tent (where we’d grab an hour of sleep when not walking). Already, the temperature soared into the
Our color-coded T-shirts signified our status: Cancer survivors wore purple, committee chairmen were easy to spot in yellow, team captains sported blue and team members were attired in white.
As the relay got under way with the survivor lap, I was shocked to see waves of children and teens clad in purple. With every step the survivors took, my own resolve strengthened.
Who cares if the temp hits the century mark? Hey, it ain’t chemo.
I began my own walk just before 11 a.m. I kept going throughout the toasty morning, the blistering afternoon, the blessedly gentle evening. I chatted with teammates, survivors and volunteers. I cranked up my iPod and let music carry me forward.
At 4 p.m., while tying an ice water-soaked bandana around my neck and slipping ice cubes into my running bra, I thought of fevers.
At the end of my first husband’s life, he was ravaged by uncontrollable fevers. Scorched and drenched in his bed in the ICU, he was swaddled head to foot in a hellish blanket of bedsores.
And so I kept going … alongside my comrades on the course, each touched by cancer in some way.
“Suck It Cancer” read the back of the T-shirt worn by Eric, who walked the entire 24 hours in honor of a fellow athlete. In khakis and camo “Bob’s Army” marched, remembering a dad whose cancer went undetected for too long. My team walked in honor of Brian’s dad, whose cancer may be linked to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
It was emotional. It was exhausting. It was exhilarating. In the end, it was not enough–half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
But it was something.
I’m not good at doing many things, but I can walk. And I will continue, every year, for as long as I can.
In the end, toenails are highly overrated.
Contact Marianne Lucchesi Hamilton at email@example.com.