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June 16, 2006

Relay for Life

I wanted this post to appear at 6:00 pm tonight, but I can't get it to work that way.

So if you're going to Relay for Life tonight, don't read this now. Or, maybe you should read it, that way when I collapse into a pile on the stage, you can run up and finish it for me. Thanks!

Anyway, Danny wrote this when he worked at the Town Crier. They called and asked me last week if it could be read, and if I'd like to read it. I said "yes".

I said "yes"??? Am I insane?

So I'll be practicing the rest of the afternoon. (It's 3:18 pm as I write this.)

I do have some little tricks to help me get through it. Like imagining Danny in his "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" boxers while changing into his robe before a baptism. What a silly boy.

So here goes. Get out the Kleenex and send the kids out to play in the street.

"Relay For Life: Here's why I'm walking”

"Later this month, I'll be walking in what the American Cancer Society bills as its signature event, "The Relay for Life”.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with late-stage Hodgkin's Disease a kind of cancer that attacked all the lymph nodes above my waist. I spent about 8 years, on and off, doing radiation and chemotherapy treatments to try to get the disease under control but nothing worked.

It would seem to be beaten, then grow back, more resistant than before, until I wasn't scared to die as much as I was scared to hope.

Finally, I went through the worst month of my life, a bone marrow transplant that would end up being a last-ditch effort. Because of the years of battering my body took from the chemo and radiation, I was told not to expect miracles, but I didn’t really have any other chance to live. I had no other choice.

To my surprise, I was stubborn enough to live, to be able to call myself a cancer survivor.

That's not why I'm walking.

While I was sick, before the transplant, I met a boy named Robert who was about 5 years old. Robert’s mother had died of cancer. His father was in Oklahoma, where he had to live with his parents as he tried to work off the debt his wife’s disease had left behind. The hospital I was in was one of the best in the country, so Robert was there to get treatment for leukemia. With no visitors other than an occasional monthly visit from his father, my doctor asked me if I would get to know Robert. My doctor said I had a “good attitude” about my disease and maybe I could help. Of course, there is no good attitude to have about cancer. When your own body wants you dead, there’s not much more to say.

Nevertheless, I got to spend time with Bobby. We played hours of cards during the long afternoons. We watched videos. Once, we even went to the zoo, if you can imagine.

Then one inevitable night the nurses woke me up. It’s never good news when they wake you up.

Bobby was asking for me. His cancer had spread to his lungs, his kidneys and his brain.

With the doctor and nurses at the foot of the bed at about 2 in the morning, I climbed under the covers with Bobby, who had turned so skinny and pale you could see his rib cage rising and falling as he breathed.

Finally, they had to give him a shot for pain. A few minutes later, I watched him die.

That was the moment I knew that cancer was not just a disease. It was an evil.

That’s not why I’m walking.

When I was finally well enough to work my way back into my life after the transplant, I headed for seminary in Richmond, Virginia. While I was there, I spent months as an emergency room chaplain in a downtown Richmond hospital. We would work overnight shifts, 12 hours long, and answer pages that said someone in one of the intensive care units was dying, or a patient on another floor was coding, or a gunshot victim and his family would be at the ER in 4 minutes.

In between times, we would walk the floors of the hospital, stopping to visit anyone who could use a listening ear. Patients, nurses, doctors, other chaplains.

I saw the slow, painful progression of death by cancer again and again in that sterile place. I heard strong men cry out in pain, and I saw loving mothers who couldn’t remember their own children.

That’s not why I’m walking.

Three years ago, my sister, Sherri, noticed a lump on her breast. Less than a year later, she was dead of breast cancer. Sisters aren’t supposed to die.

She left a husband and two children, Theresa and Travis, who were 5 and 4 at the time.

They weren’t members of a church, so rather than letting a stranger give her funeral, the task of giving the eulogy fell to me.

I promise you, it wasn’t easy.

Cancer does more than eat away at healthy cells.

That’s not why I’m walking.

I’m walking because I’m a human being, and human beings are suffering from this disease.

I’m walking because if I don’t walk, who will?

I’m walking because cancer kills every day, and leaves families with nothing but medical bills and questions that don’t have any answers.

I’m walking because this is one of the few times in the course of a life that one person really can make a difference."

Posted by Stephanie at June 16, 2006 06:00 PM

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