I Relay for Nanny and Papa. But before I tell you my story, I want to acknowledge something: everyone has their own cancer story. Mine is neither better nor worse than anyone else’s, but it is my story. It is the reason I want to see cancer’s cure in my lifetime. It’s the reason I have become involved with Relay For Life at UVa, and it is what I come back to when I get stressed out or unmotivated doing my job with Relay.
Cancer became real to me when I was in the 5th grade. My parents told me gently that my grandmother (Nanny) had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I didn’t know what cancer was, what an ovary was, or why my mom seemed so upset. Cancer became real though when I saw Nanny’s scars. When I saw her lift up her shirt a couple of days after her surgery, I was wholly unprepared for the sight of a scar running all the way up the length of her stomach. It wasn’t one of those “Oh, you’ll have a great story to tell about that scar” scars. It was a gash, held together by Frankenstein-esque staples. I didn’t know what to say, but at that moment, I began to understand just how real and vicious cancer is.
Cancer became even more real when I shaved my head. I, along with my brothers and cousins, got a buzz cut when Nanny started her chemotherapy. We couldn’t do much to help Nanny in her treatment, but we could try to let her know that we loved her, and shaving our heads as she lost her hair seemed to be the best way that we knew how to tell her . I discovered a little bit of what she must be feeling when I looked in the mirror after that buzz cut. It was horrible. I’ll never shave my head again if I can help it. But the thing is, cancer patients can’t help it. Cancer takes away that decisions of how you want to do your hair. In that moment, looking at my new haircut in the mirror, cancer’s effects became a little more real to me.
Cancer became even more real when Papa, my grandfather, was diagnosed with colon cancer. It seems like just a few days from the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed away, though it was actually a couple of weeks. Cancer was real, cancer was vicious, and cancer was painful as I told Papa how much I loved him in the hospital shortly before he died. I saw how real cancer had become to so many of Papa’s friends and our family at his visitation. It was hard for me to imagine how cancer could be so utterly devastating by taking someone who had meant so much to so many people.
Cancer has become even more real in the past two years at UVa. It has become real as I have met people and heard their stories. It has become real as I have taken classes from professors doing cancer research currently. It has become real as I walk around the track every year at Relay For Life seeing so many names on the Luminaria.
Cancer is real. Now, though, through my work with Relay For Life at UVa, I know that my effect on cancer is real. The money I raise has real effects. The money I raise goes to cancer research. The money I raise goes to give women wigs. The money I raise allows people to get rides to their treatments. The money I raise pays for lodging near treatment facilities for people who have to travel. The money I raise supports advocacy and support groups. The money I raise will one day fund real cures for all types of cancers.
Cancer is real, but so is our work to see its end. Join me and Relay For Life, so that we can live in a cancer free world.
Greek Recruitment Co-Chair