The Meaning of Life…

1 Jun

It’s been overcast & threatening to rain all day. Heavy, dirty marshmallow clouds hang over the school as we leave the parking lot on a golf cart heading to the cafeteria to meet our friends who are saving us a seat for dinner. The golf cart ride is a perk for survivors & caregivers & we are a part of that … the couple we are meeting & us.

We were new friends when I became a survivor in 2008 & have grown closer as she also became a survivor in 2012; our friendship extending past just going out to dinner or a movie because of an unexpected journey into the land of cancer. It has changed us.

Every year I have a compelling need to be here & now, too, does Beth. Tonight is their 23rd. wedding anniversary & they sit at a table in a high school cafeteria waving to us as we come in. She has just changed into her “survivor” t-shirt that the American Cancer Society has given us & Peter is wearing a dark t-shirt with bright pink letters & a pink ribbon that shouts to anyone who wishes to read it,  “My Wife – My Hero.”

Willy has rushed home from work so we would be here on time. His rushing is not so much because that’s the one place on earth he wants to be tonight but because he knows that for me it IS. He’s wearing his “caregiver” t-shirt that he won back in 2009 for bringing in $1000 in donations to the Relay for Life; walking for both of us as I was recovering from the side effects of chemotherapy.

Dinner is good; catered & donated for survivors & caregivers to the Relay for Life by Olive Garden.  Because the American Cancer Society is responsible for many more birthdays (their logo says so), dessert is a symbolic birthday cake made up of cupcakes & we pig out.

Another golf cart & another perk, we’re delivered to the athletic field & the track, now lined by campsites with only feet between them. Every campsite has something special for sale … cookies, key chains, a handmade bench, raffle tickets, t-shirts & there are prizes especially for survivors. The money raised at the campsites goes towards the Relay for Life & 99% of the people manning these sites, selling their wares, donating their proceeds are there because they have been touched in some way by cancer.

We walk from campsite to campsite & look at everything. A band is playing & people are having a good time. I’ve found a t-shirt I can’t resist; a breast cancer shirt with a cow logo with a bright pink udder & teats. Written on 2 pink ribbons beside the cow is the message, “Save the teats & all the udders.”  I buy the shirt because it makes me laugh. I’m thinking I might wear it the next time I’m invited to speak to a seminar or group about breast cancer. I like to start my presentations with humor. It relaxes my audience & reminds me how important it is to have humor on your side as you stumble along the cancer road on your personal journey.

The evening is about to begin as all Relay evenings do … with the survivors lap around the track followed by the caregivers lap. The color guard takes the lead followed by survivors carrying the banner proclaiming that those of us walking here are just that – survivors. This is why Beth & I came, why she is spending her wedding anniversary walking this track with me & not at a candlelit dinner at a nice restaurant alone with Peter. We feel compelled to be here but totally at a loss to explain that compulsion to those on the “other side” of the track.

The walk begins & Beth & I join arms & walk together … out here under heavy gray clouds surrounded in front, beside & behind us by our newly acquired brothers & sisters.  We have become part of an unexpected community. Everyone out here with us has shared the same experiences; the same fears, the same confusion, the same journey in one way or another & in a number of cases the same joy in remission. We both cry. How could we not?

Still walking arm in arm Beth tells me of the irony she feels at being here. She says that all those years she volunteered, raised funds, worked with a team, felt deep sadness for the victims of cancer; it never occurred to her that she would be walking this track as a survivor. We both felt somehow protected because we did everything right – lived healthy lives & had no family history of cancer but here we are walking with our new family of survivors & now we share a family history with them.

As we’re walking the longest walk we will take today we speculate about those who are here tonight, yet to be diagnosed & those who are here with us, surrounding us on the track who may not be here taking this long walk at the next Relay. Not only do we feel blessed to be here, walking together, crying together, we realize that walking this track has brought us as close as we will EVER be to understanding the meaning of life or at least the deepest appreciation of it. We have lived through a journey that threatened to take it away from us. At this moment there is nowhere that I would rather be than sharing this significant walk & my tears with my friend.

Peter & Willy have walked the caregivers lap & now we’re just walking, buying more fun stuff & contributing to the Relay, buying goofy cow t-shirts, glow sticks & goofy glasses. It’s so good to spend this evening with our friends who are friends now on many different levels. We share a bond that needs no words.

Bags are set up along the track & the candles inside are lit. Bagpipers walk the track playing a haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Although hundreds of people are here, a significant & reverent silence falls over the field, held in place by those ominous, yet temporarily forgiving clouds. You can hear a pin drop or a baby crying at one of the campsites. The glowing bags each honor a cancer victim who has survived or lost their battle. Pictures in honor & memory of cancer victims & survivors are flashed on a huge screen hung on the side of one of the school buildings.  The moment is surreal & unforgettable & filled with emotion.

We hug each other. We’re glad we’re here & we’re glad we came.




3 Responses to “The Meaning of Life…”

  1. Willy June 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Yes, it was a special night…and being with friends who have shared a similar experience with cancer made it especially memorable.


    • heimdalco June 1, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Thank you, Willy & thank you for rushing home so we could be there on time … and for all you
      do & have done (my caregiver & the love of my life)


  2. Anthony Moshonas June 2, 2014 at 1:23 am #

    I know it had a lot of meaning for you Linda. I’m glad that you and Willy could make it. Thanks.


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