As survivors, sometimes we step outside our comfort zones to help groups that raise awareness about cancer along with funds for research. Representing survivorship at a Relay for Life event can be as important as donating funds or decorating luminaries.
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.net
When a student asked me to participate in the Blue Key Honor Society Relay for Life with a kick-off speech at the college where I work, I said I would look at my appointment calendar and check back. I did not really need to look. A homebody’s schedule would, of course, be clear on a Friday evening.
I made a note in my calendar to decide sooner rather than later to give Blue Key time to get another speaker. I knew I was likely to say no. April is busy in an academic setting. The idea of going out on a Friday evening in April makes me feel tired. Then a former student told me that his mother had passed after a recurrence of cancer. I knew then I had to say yes to Relay for Life.
I still did not rush to email the student who had asked me to talk. Procrastinating, I wondered if I could get away with saying no after all, even if my conscience told me to say yes. Procrastinating, I entered checklists in my appointment calendar to make my life appear booked. Then another student asked if I had decided about Relay for Life. I made up my mind on the spot. I had to follow through. I told her yes.
Blue Key Honor Society is a wonderful group of college students who commit time and energy to service activities to make the world a better place. If one of these people looks at you with earnest eyes, I have learned, you cannot say no, especially when it involves supporting the American Cancer Society with a fundraiser that brings a community together with the fervor of a pep rally.
I wrote the organizer and repeated my yes. In fact, I had begun composing a talk when first asked. As writers do, I went through multiple revisions, the last hours before I was to speak. I wanted the focus to be, along with thanks for the good work Relay for Life does, the value of cancer research because I have always been grateful about the evolution of Herceptin as a treatment.
At the Relay for Life event, a student handed me a mic. I talked. Everybody listened as I praised the efforts of Blue Key and said a little more about my own story, simultaneously appealing to others to think about theirs (as caregivers, supporters, survivors, etc.). I did my job of kicking off the event.
After I spoke, a group of us that included students picked up a banner for the survivors’ lap around the gym. No, I did not stay until midnight, but I did do a few more laps with others that night. I talked to people, listened to fiddle music by a colleague who volunteered her talent for cancer fundraising, and cuddled a puppy.
Relay for Life was not such a bad way for me to spend a Friday evening at the end of a long, hard week, alive and hopeful.