Thanks to my daughter, Stephanie, I’ve been indirectly involved with the American Cancer Society Sky Valley Relay For Life fundraising for several years, but had yet to actually go to the big event, citing, not completely jokingly, a lack of smokers’ areas at such events.
I really just didn’t see much point. The money was raised; if people wanted to go out and camp at a high school stadium and cheer about it, that was just fine, but not for me.
Until this year. I got bamboozled. My kid and our bandmate, Mike, and I were slated to sing the National Anthem. Hard to say “no.” Hard to stay home.
I didn’t spend the night. I was on dog duty, happily assigned to run back and forth from Gold Bar, eventually sleeping at home with the pets rather than kenneling them.
I figured that I could get a smoke or two in while I was gone, and if I was bored to tears, I could drag my time at home out a bit.
I got there and unpacked all the costume stuff and treats that I had. The place was busy and buzzing with so many people who go to Relay year after year, greeting each other. I took a walk around the field, where all the teams’ campsites were being set up.
Such elaboration! It was a country theme this year, and there were campsites that looked like saloons, sites with rocking horses, some so well done that people were getting photos taken in them – for a donation, of course.
During the opening ceremony, it was revealed that Jerry “Big Dog” Dixon, resplendent in his cowboy hat and leathers and riding a little scooter donated by Adventure Motorsports, would be stepping down as the event chairperson after three years at the helm.
If you live around here and don’t know who Big Dog is, you might just have to climb out from under that rock of yours, buy a hot dog up at his stand in Sultan and say “hello.” The guy is quite the personality, and that big personality was a perfect fit for an event like Relay. It will be tough to fill his shoes. At any rate, he promised he was only stepping down, not out.
At the end of the opening ceremony was the first lap. And this is where things started to sink in for this first-timer.
The Survivor Lap. Fronted by Dave Sivewright, the Highway 2 Freedom Runner and his flag, around they went. A sea of purple shirts, many with loved ones assisting, made their way around the track and finally through the “tunnel” made by the rest of us. Old people; far-too-young people; people who I knew, but didn’t know their struggle until then. It was a bit overwhelming.
After the opening ceremony, things settled into general merriment. People tallied their laps, laps made with funny hats, Seahawks gear, red-white-and-blue themes, and more. All the while, there were contests such as a lip sync and a cross-dressing Mr. and Mrs. Relay contest. Young people were getting their hair shaved for donations, then donating the hair to those who have lost theirs as a result of cancer treatment. Out in the middle of the field, kids were tossing footballs and playing pick-up soccer games.
I did some laps, checking out the wares that different teams were offering for donations to the cause. Some people barely stopped walking the track.
Funny, living in a place for so many years, you’re bound to have acquaintance with a few people for whom you don’t much care. I saw a gentleman there who, darn it, I really don’t like at all. I never saw him stop walking. All day long, around and around he went.
I still don’t think we’ll be doing lunch anytime soon, but I gained respect for him. I saw him as a human; a person affected; a person willing to do what he could to help others. Another light bulb clicked on above my head. We’re all in this together.
The last event that I attended was the Luminaria. After all of the fun and camaraderie of the day, the lights went low. The entire track at Monroe was outlined with illuminated paper bags decorated with the names of loved ones and friends who had won their battle, lost their battle, or continue the fight. Poems were read, stories told. Tears were shed.
We all walked around the track again, slowly this time, looking at the hundreds of bags and their adornments and realizing, all too well, that every bag represented a person touched by cancer who is loved by someone else.
I headed home to the dogs with the radio off, thinking.
One of the reasons that I never attended a Relay For Life event before this year had nothing to do with my addiction to nicotine (really!). I’ve always wondered why I needed to “toot my horn” if I did something charitable. I never begrudged others, but I just didn’t get it. This year’s road to Relay, and the Relay event itself, answered my question.
From the couple of people I knew who surprised me when I saw them as survivors, to the guy I don’t like who seemingly never stopped walking, to my children who want to keep Grandma and Grandpa a little bit longer, we all had a reason to be there.
Relay For Life is indeed the culmination of a huge fundraising effort. But it is so much more. It is a gathering of souls acknowledging a terrible blight and vowing to work together to, if not eradicate it, at least lessen it.
Relay For Life also changed my tune about “horn tooting.” My daughter got into Relay because her in-laws have been very active participants for many years. Over the years, it has become a part of her and she has been committing to help organize the event each year. I help with our team’s big fundraiser each year; a fundraiser that, after six years, almost manages itself because so many people, not only team members, dive in to help.
We gather and we fundraise, and we celebrate and we grieve. And we raise awareness.
Why not say, “This is what I did,” if it makes another person think about doing something, too?
To the American Cancer Society, to Big Dog, to all the participants at our Karaoke 4 Cancer events and the Relay itself, and to Stephanie: I guess an old dog can learn new tricks. Thank you for the eye-opener.
See you next year!
Kathie Savelesky is the office manager of the Monroe Monitor & Valley News.