Thursday, June 28, 2012

Relay for Life According to Laura

As you know, this year was my first doing the Relay for Life.  2012 is only the second year that our town (a suburb of Seattle) has had a Relay for Life.

My husband, Greg
I had heard of it before - raise money for cancer.  Ya, that's nice.  But, I didn't know anyone with cancer, not really.  Sure, you hear people on the news who have/had cancer or someone might say they are related to someone with cancer or know someone.  But, cancer was never really on my radar until I got it.

I remember a few months ago when I was struggling with the "WHYs" - "Why did I get cancer?"  "Why did this happen to me?"  My new physical therapist, Kelly, said that maybe I got cancer so that I could have more empathy for others with cancer.  Well, I thought that was a sucky reason to get cancer!  Somebody could have just come and smacked me upside the head and said, "WAKE UP!"  A nicely worded letter would have been nice - "Hey!  People have cancer!  Be more caring!"
Kris (and Sheepie)

Regardless, I got cancer (twice) and survived and, as I find my way in my post-cancer world, I realize that I do want something good to come of this - maybe THAT's WHY I got cancer.  (Which, again, I'd like to say that's a terrible reason but whatever.)

Anyway, this led me to Relay for Life.  It took me several months to decide to actually start a team.  I don't really like to be in charge of things.  I don't particularly like to be a role model.  Being a good role model for my children (most days) takes a lot out of me...I don't have time or energy to be on good behavior for other people too.  I decided, though, that it was for a good cause.  Could I behave myself for a good cause?

Before I could make a team, we had to have a name.  I did the most intensive research I could to find a good name - I asked my friends on facebook.  There were several "interesting" suggestions including: "The Booby Bunch," "The Boob Squad" and "The Boob Crew."  After much deliberation (I asked my Mom), I decided on my friend, Elizabeth's, recommendation:  NO BOOBS REQUIRED!

We had a name, I had the $100 starting fee - I registered our team.  I set out recruiting members, again on facebook because I'm cool like that.  I was surprised at how many of my friends wanted to join!  People, not only willing to fundraise, but also give up a whole weekend for the cause.  I was honored that they would want to be a part, especially of a team ridiculously named "No Boobs Required."  I would find out, as Relay neared, that all of us had a personal connection to cancer.

In the beginning, our team consisted of my family, Greg (husband) and Kyra (daughter) and my friends Shana, her daughter Jade, Tanya, Monika, Karen, Kris, Shereen, Brenda, Deb and Christy.  Karen's son, Drew, joined later as did my son, Carter, rounding out the team to 15 members, the maximum.

We all made plans and coordinated fundraisers and, asked...for donations.  Karen Williams made and sold hundreds of cake pops for a dollar each.  Our friend, Elizabeth (the team namer) helped decorate many of them as did I.  Even my Mom pitched in to help with the decorating. I also donated my services as cake pop taste tester.  I was really good at it!  Decorating those little suckers isn't easy in my opinion, since I was born without any sort of crafty gene, but tasting, THAT I could do!

Collection Jars
Tanya and Christy, at Relay

Shana Warner held a jewelry party with profits going to Relay (I did this as well).  Kris Bitnes put my scary picture on jars and collected money - I was a CAUSE for people to donate to (which saddened my Mother).  Brenda held a very successful fundraiser pool party with drawings.  I helped my 10 year old daughter, Kyra, organize a book sale.  People bought things, People donated.

As Relay approached, we had no clue what we were in for.  We held a meeting and Relay Goddesses, Carrie Blankenship and Kim Demary, came to answer all of our endless inane questions.  We were as prepared as a bunch of newbies who had no clue could be.

The day finally arrived and I got up a little after 7 a.m.  I don't appreciate anything that starts that early, but, again, this was for a good cause.  The realization that I would, likely, be awake for the next 27 hours or so was daunting but I felt empowered (delirious from lack of sleep too).  I loaded the car and made a quick swing by Starbucks on my way there.  Armed with a Chonga bagel and Double Chocolate Chip Frappacino, I was ready to conquer the Relay!

Our encampment!  #8
I found our camp spot (lucky #8) and started to haul things over.  Shana and Jade (crazy early risers) were already there and Karen and I arrived at the same time.  We set things up quickly and Greg (along with Kyra and Carter) arrived a little after 9 to help.

Kyra was selling books and Shana was doing four raffles drawings (in the state of Washington, "raffles" are illegal, so we must call them "drawings."  Raffles are gambling but drawings aren't.  Go figure.).  Karen was selling more yummy cake pops (I was all "taste tested" out at this point) and her son, Drew, took on most of that duty.  Since food had to be sold in a different location (away from the track), Drew was away from our site most of the day.  As a teenage boy, he was super bummed to not get to spend the whole day with a bunch of 40 year old women.

A little after 10 a.m., the opening ceremonies began.  Everyone was called into the bleachers.   The opening ceremony was really beautiful and touching.  Several people spoke about the meaning of Relay and someone beautifully sang the national anthem.  It was then time for the Survivor's Lap. (To read about the Survivor's Lap - Go Here: Survivor Lap)

Following the Survivor Lap, it was time to really get serious.  Of course, it being MY team, that never actually happened.  But, as the day progressed, we sold books, "drawing" tickets, walked laps and gave the children endless dollar bills to buy treats, snacks and hot chocolate from the vendors.

Many of us took the special pledge to stay up ALL night without sleeping.  We were full of energy and empowered!  We were women (well, except for Greg) hear us Roar!


Each hour throughout the day had a theme and it was fun to watch the costumes.  As our team members walked by, I cheered for them.  A few were really honored by the acknowledgement, most acted like they didn't know me.  Our little Energizer Bunny of the team, Brenda Dykgraaf, walked so many laps, so fast, that I think I missed her about half the time.  Our plan was that some people signed up for specific times to walk and the rest of us would fill in.  Sadly, I "filled in" much less than I had planned.  It was a particularly achy day for me and I'd been battling a migraine for 2 days.  The bright sun (a rarity in Seattle!) was not welcome to my eyes or head.

At 7 p.m., Shana prepared to draw for her raffles.  She was giving away 2 sets of Office Pro, an Xbox Kinect and a bundle of Xbox games.  I quickly bought three tickets for the Kinect.  I made sure to rumple my tickets and fold them and kissed them for extra luck.  Shana had me draw the names for the Office Pro packs and first Christy and then Tanya won those.  They were thrilled.  I drew a little boy's name for the games bundle.  Then, it was time to draw for the Kinect!  I was so excited!  I KNEW which ticket to look for!  As I reached my hand in, I gloated!  Shana was suddenly on to me and my cheating ways and she snatched the bag from me.  She turned to Tanya to draw a name.  I gestured to Tanya behind Shana's back to pick the FOLDED TICKET!!!  Shana caught me and, in disgust, she stomped away to find a stranger to pick the winning ticket.  Darn.

A minute later, she stomped back in a huff.  I'd won anyway!!!  She had gone out into the field and found someone to draw the winning ticket and they chose my name out of the bag anyway!   It was great!  Shana wrote out the list for the announcer to call out the winners over the loudspeaker.  When the announcements came on, they called all the names and then read mine as, "Laura 'I LOVE COCONUT' Shelton."  Not okay Shana!  NOT OKAY!  But, hey, I won a Kinect, so it didn't matter.

As night neared, we gathered white bags to make luminaries.  Luminaries are bags decorated to honor people you know and love who have fought cancer (some that have won and many that have lost).  Shereen made a Luminaria for me.  She also made one for our 5 year old friend, Jenna, who died from cancer 3 years ago.  I made several for friends that I know.  Others made them for family members and friends.

We walked around the track to look at the luminaries before it got dark.  There were just so MANY of them.  It was beautiful and overwhelming.  Some had pictures, some had drawings, most had names.  They said things like "Grandpa," "Papa" and "Sis."  I stopped to read one in particular.  It had a letter on one side to "Mom" and a letter on the other side to "Sis."  The writer wrote letters about how much she missed each of them and how she was now, "the only one left."  I cried.

Dark fell and the luminaries glowed from the little battery operated lights inside.  At 10 p.m., we were all called to the bleachers.  Once everyone was gathered, the lights were all turned out.  The track now only lit by the glowing circle of bags that outlined the track.  Pink bags spelling out HOPE glowed in the stands on the opposite side.  It was beautiful and sad.

Voices spoke over the microphone but we could not see them in the dark.  It was like a voice from another world.  Eerie and haunting.  Survivors were then called down from the bleachers to get a purple glow stick and walk the track.

This was when I was sure the Relay people were trying to kill me again.  It was completely dark and they wanted me to navigate the dark bleachers and make it down to the bottom for a little purple glow stick.  After surviving cancer twice, I was pretty sure this was what was going to do me in.  I didn't think a little purple glow stick was enough reward for me to risk my life.  I do like glow sticks though...and they were free.

Luckily, I did make it down safely to the flat ground of the track to get my purple glow stick reward.  Everyone else was called out of the stands for a white glow stick.  I waited for my family and our whole group walked the track once more mostly in silence, in awe of the glowing luminaries.

The Relay peeps had announced at 10 that they were going to leave the lights off all night and let the track only be lit by the luminaries.  Our group was not happy.  First, we had NO light in our little compound.  Second, it was much harder to keep track of our children in total darkness.  Third, we knew we wouldn't be able to stay awake in darkness.  And last but not least, we feared that someone would get hurt on the dark track.  I feared that person would be me.  I have enough trouble walking in light!

Luckily, at 11 p.m., after one hour of darkness, the Powers that be in Relay decided to turn the lights back on.  Not only did they have some of the same concerns as us; but many are parents of teenagers and decided that a bunch of teenagers loose all night in total darkness was probably not a good idea.  (Good call).

Crazy Zumba peeps!

At midnight, Karen's niece, Emily,  brought a friend and directed an hour of Zumba.  Christy jumped right in to Zumba.  I decided to give it a try myself.  I was a natural!  I picked it up right away and was rocking it.  And then they started to move their feet too.  I was not told I would have to move more than my arms!  I am not coordinated enough to manage that.  I was bumping into all the people around me.  They were not amused.  It was a disaster.  I was going to maim someone.  I quickly bowed out.  My Zumba days over before they began.  Christy, Tanya, Shana and Shereen decided to do their own little Zumba club over on the side.  It was "entertaining."  Zumba lasted for a whole hour!  The vast majority of the Zumba-ers were kids and teens.  The rest of us didn't have the energy to Zumba at midnight (or any other time for that matter).

When Zumba ended at 1 a.m., it was the PJ hour.  My kids and Karen's son, Ian, happily participated. Then at 2 a.m. was the Zombie Hour.  Jade wore a scary mask (or maybe that is just how she looks when she's really tired - Kidding Jade, Kidding!).  Carter dressed up as a zombie.  He made it around the track twice with only one flip flop because he says that zombies always lose one shoe.  I did not know this about zombies so this was helpful information.

At 2:30, Carter gave up and went to sleep in the tent.  Kyra and Ian were both still up and full of energy, hyped up on $1 hot chocolates.

At 3 a.m., it was Obstacle Hour.  The Relay people put out little "fences" to jump over.  Ian did the obstacle course with such enthusiasm that he won a prize!  I also energetically leapt over many of the obstacles (well, okay, I carefully stepped over them) but I got no such prize.  Hmph!

By 4 a.m., only nine of us remained.  Me, Kyra, Carter, Karen, Drew, Ian, Shana, Jade and Shereen.  Things started to get pretty delirious at this point.  We were sitting under the canopy talking.  Everything was funny.  Shana called her daughter (Jade) by the name "Lily" (Chrisy's dog's name).  Jade didn't even notice.  Shereen tried to convince us that she could have been a rapper in another life.  Karen was quiet (never a good thing).  We laughed so hard that we cried.  There were moments of long silences when we all sat in a trance and moments where we laughed so hard we cried.

I waited a long time for another team member to cross in front of our booth so I could cheer for them (and they could, as a result, pretend they didn't know me).  This is when I realized that we were all under the canopy.  No one was walking.  Whoops!  We all decided that just BEING THERE was enough.  We thought that was hilarious too.

Kyra - 6 a.m.
As dawn approached, we were all fading fast.  Shereen managed to convince herself that she should leave.  I was still resolved to stay until closing ceremonies at 10 a.m.  At 6:30 a.m., Kyra (who had been up all night) started having a nervous breakdown.  She was sitting in the chair under the canopy staring into space and crying.  I knew we were through.  None of us could go on.  I called Greg to come get us.  Karen left with her two boys and once Greg arrived, Shana and Jade left.

We packed up and waited for Brenda to arrive at 7 a.m.  I didn't want her to come back to an empty campsite.  What a shock that would have been!  Ha!  Once she arrived, we left and stumbled to our car.

Greg brought us breakfast and we ate and then all collapsed into bed and slept for hours.  We spent days unpacking the cars completely.
Energizer Bunny, Brenda!
Jade 6 a.m.

Brenda walked the most on our team, completing 80 laps (that's 20 MILES!!).

Our team raised $4,594.50 for Relay.  That's really impressive considering it was the first year for all of us and I wasn't even sure if I wanted to do it!

Relay was an amazing experience.  To be surrounded by people who had lived through something similar to what you had - to see people that had survived for years more than you dare even dream for yourself - it was humbling and beautiful.  Relay is highs and lows, we laughed until we cried, we laughed through tears, we just cried.  There were so many times that you could almost feel the presence of those that we walked for.  Those that couldn't be there.  Those that lost the battle with cancer.  So many times throughout the day, I just closed my eyes and absorbed "Relay."  Soaking in the sounds and emotions.  Looking at my children and all the children there and knowing that we are playing a small part in making sure that none of them have cancer.

Relay is for more birthdays.  It's as simple as that.  Making sure that all of us have many many more birthdays to celebrate!


  1. This was awesome , as always you did a great job writing this , love it !!! (( hugs to you ))

  2. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?




  3. This is Great, Laura. . .you should post this on your facebook page with a share option when you are collecting for relay or asking people to come out. . .I think it really paints a picture of the Relay for Life Spirit :)

  4. That's a great idea! Thanks for reading Kelly!!

  5. That was such a fun day! I'm so glad I got to be apart of it! You are so strong Laura! <3