“Cancer begins and ends with people. In the midst of scientific abstraction, it is sometimes possible to forget this one basic fact….” – June Goodfield
Cancer begins and ends with people. I can’t imagine a phrase that Relay For Life embodies more. Throughout four years of college, my experience at UVA has been defined by cancer, but perhaps it is more apt to say that it has been defined by the people that cancer has brought into my life, namely those of Relay For Life at UVA.
My story begins the exact same way each time I tell it: my life changed forever in a Marriot in Georgetown. That November afternoon, my parents sat me down to tell me my mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So when I joined Relay For Life in the spring of 2013, all I knew was that my mom was sick, and because I lacked a medical degree and really any medical knowledge beyond the idea that you can get rid of a cold with lots of fluids and rest, there was nothing I could do. But I needed a tangible way to fight something that I could not see and honestly did not totally understand.
Cancer is hard to grasp. From the moment of diagnosis to the treatments, it seems impossible to understand, and for the most part, often does not feel we know much about it. We know its hard to fight and even harder to beat, but does the common person, the people who are most likely affected by this disease, do they know how it spreads? Why it emerges? How exactly we fight it? Not truly. I was that person. I was a scared 18 year old who was 9 hours away from home and thought she was losing her best friend in the world.
But as scary as cancer is, as much as it has changed my life, not all the changes cancer has made have been bad ones. After bouncing around from major to major I finally found my calling: nursing. I joined an organization that would give me some of my best friends and greatest leadership opportunities, and would ultimately characterize my entire UVA experience. It gave me a support system of immeasurably talented and passionate people, who understood what I was experiencing.
In addition to my work with Relay, I spent this year studying the language we use to discuss cancer. I talked to survivors, caregivers, doctors, nurses, and volunteers about their experiences and their stories. Each day, I heard about the incredible strength, positivity, and bravery that fighting cancer requires. Everyone I have met, both through my research and through Relay, has an unbelievable story of courage and adversity that fully characterizes the life-affirming affect cancer has on people’s lives.
So I relay for those stories. I relay for the stories of my family and friends, for those stories that inspire everyone at Relay For Life at UVA to relay and work as hard as they do each day. I relay for the people I have never met, never heard of, and will never know who have been touched by cancer. I relay to see the end of cancer in my lifetime. I relay so my children never have to hear those words “your mother has cancer”. I relay for the life-affirmation that comes out of this terrible diagnosis.
I relay for life, past, present, and future.
This Friday, Relay For Life at UVA will celebrate survivors, remember those taken too soon, and fight back against this disease that has influenced each of our stories in a unique way. From 6PM on Friday to 6AM on Saturday morning, we will be out at Carr’s Hill Field to symbolize that cancer never sleeps and to revere those who fight each and every day.
12 hours of people, brought together by cancer from beginning to end.
So here’s to you, Mom. I love you.