Been there, done that, got the volunteer T-shirt.
Who knew cancer could be so much fun?
Obviously this controversial statement is intended to get your attention so I can make this point about the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life: charity events for diseases are not always somber and depressing. If, like me, you have ever used this excuse for non-participation, cross it off your list.
Don’t Repost This as Your Status For One Hour
If I haven’t already lost you, let me assure you that I am not asking for anything. I myself am painfully average when it comes to donating. I have my own well-rehearsed list for not participating in charity events: I’m too busy; I’m too broke; I gave at a different office. All of these are absolutely true, but I am quicker to use them in this modern age of over-solicitation. Thanks to phony corporate guilt marketing and overzealous Facebook pummeling, it’s easy to get de-sensitized and not do anything at all. Let me say it this way: my favorite kind of volunteering is the kind you actually volunteer for. [Many of you are now volunteering a grammar rule about not ending sentences with a preposition. This is something I’m aware of.] The purpose of this article is not to add to the saturation, but to take a moment to give those of you sitting on the fence with me a more attractive option for helping.
Ain’t No Party Like a Cancer Party ‘Cause a Cancer Party Don’t Stop (Unfortunately)
Relay For Life is a charity event the organizers call “a time to celebrate those who have battled cancer, remember those lost and get inspired to fight back.” I recently walked with my family to support a friend whose father has cancer, as well as to honor various friends and relatives who have passed away or are currently soldiering on as survivors.
When I arrived at the local high school track with my kids, what we found, quite frankly, was a raging party. There was a martial arts performance, a money-raising “beauty” contest for men in drag, and a woman hula-hooping her way around the track like a possessed circus performer. There was live music, bounce houses, games, and footballs and Frisbees flying through the air like an asteroid field. This particular event was on the day of the supposed Rapture, so at first I thought they were asteroids. The best time to walk for charity in an open field is the day God is expected to strike down upon thee with great vengeance. “Hi, Lord! Maybe you should blow those thunderclouds away so you have a clear view of the altruism!” I guess it worked this time, but don’t feel bad if you weren’t out there saving the world on May 21. Weather permitting, the End of Days has been rescheduled for October and you’ll get another chance.
Starve a Cold, Feed a Cancer
As with all carnivals, there were ridiculously overpriced concessions, but for once it felt right to pay $4.00 for a grocery store hamburger, because the meat of that money was going to cancer research. It also felt good knowing I was going to walk it off before I went home. Since we would need plenty of energy, I kept myself and the kids heavily hydrated with charitable bottled spring water, and also convinced myself that it was a good reason to drink about a half-dozen iced coffees with Splenda. After the walk, I learned that there are entire books and websites claiming that Splenda is the latest product to cause cancer. Another round of morbidly ironic espresso, barista!
The kids played in the midfield, joining us for an occasional lap, while I walked the easiest eight miles of my life. Between the caffeine and losing myself in the palpable positive vibe of my fellow walkers, the day flew by. There were no rules or lane violations. Nobody yelled at each other for going too slow on the track or going the wrong way. When the P.A. announcer courteously requested moments of silence, respect was universally delivered by people of all ages. I felt great, not just because of the good cause, but also because each lap was one small step toward getting me into a smaller charity T-shirt for the next event. I could have walked further for my own health without the kids, but the Relay is about solidarity and community, not distance. More attendees = more money, and more education for my children about the realities of life and death.
It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a Life
I’m not naïve. It’s obviously not just a party, and this is most evident during the luminaria ceremony after dark, when the Relay honors those affected by or lost to the disease by lighting candles inside sand-filled bags. The theme of this walk, spelled out beautifully in the bleachers with luminarias, was HOPE. Aside from hoping for a cure, it personally made me hopeful for a kinder world, where people treat each other with the respect and deference that was present throughout the event.
Touched By a Euphemism
I don’t like the phrase “we all know someone whose life has been touched by cancer.” People don’t get “touched” by, for example, chemotherapy. A more appropriate verb would be ravaged or devastated. In the few short months between the walk and the time I finished this article, two of my close relatives were diagnosed with cancer. My friend’s father, whom we were sponsoring at the walk, was transferred to hospice care. Call me touchy if you must, but this is not the best place for euphemisms. Cancer fucking sucks.
My hope is that I have not guilt-marketed you, browbeaten you or essentially contradicted my own advice. I will not be following up to see if you read this and I will not be asking you for money. I just wanted to relay the message that it only took me about four hours to switch from indifferent to invested, and you might find yourself similarly inspired, like my five-year-old. He heard my wife and I talking today about yet another person who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Lung cancer? Yay! We get to go to another walk!”
Okaaaay. Maybe he doesn’t fully understand why he was there; his motivation is bounce houses and brotherly bonding. But it doesn’t matter. He’s excited to go again, he’s full of energy, and his T-shirt money is as good as anyone else’s. If your motivation is still not there, believe me, I understand. But if you’d like to save a life, lower your cholesterol, or even just want a new T-shirt in your closet, take a lap with him.
To support Relay For Life, visit http://www.relayforlife.org/relay/about.