My journey to a healthier me

Tales of my life

Relay for Life 2014

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This past weekend I once again participated in the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

I have been doing the Relay every year (save one) since 2004.  Friends of ours asked my husband and I to be on their team that year.  I lost my step-dad Warren to lung cancer and Dan lost his dad to liver cancer, so it was a cause dear to our hearts.  I remember being awe-struck that first year.  It was such an amazing experience.  So I continued doing it year after year.  Doing the Relay took on new meaning when I got my own cancer diagnosis in 2009.  I had always been on a team with friends, until last year when I created my own team.  I did that again this year.

I decided I wanted to accomplish a couple of things this year:  I wanted to raise more money than I ever had before; and I wanted to walk more laps than I ever had before.

I knew it would take a lot to accomplish both, but I was determined to do it.

I also did something different this year.  This year, I was part of the planning committee.  I had volunteered before, but not as part of the committee.  It was an interesting experience.  It was pretty awesome to see how much work went into putting it all together and just how many people are involved.  I’d do it again if they asked me to.

Our Relay had a theme this year – Storybook Land.  You could dress up as your favourite fictional character, and decorate your tent site too.  It’s not required, but it can make it more fun.  Initially I was going to dress up, but I ran out of time to find just the right costume.

I got there early so I could get my tent set up.  I had never set it up by myself before.  It actually went pretty smoothly until I realized the tent stakes were not in the bag.  My husband was going to join me after work, so I asked him to bring them with him.  I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out the tent on my own.

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After getting that set up, I went to turn in the rest of the monies I raised.  Most of what I raised was online, but I did have a some cash.  I also picked up my official Relay t-shirt.

I also signed in as a Survivor, picked up my Survivor t-shirt and gift bag.  The person in charge of the Survivor area does a really awesome job every year.

I actually got 3 t-shirts this year — my committee shirt, my regular Relay shirt, and my Survivor shirt.  I rarely wear the regular shirt, but I still like to have it.  I mainly wear my Survivor shirt.  For a while this year, I also wore my committee shirt.

I checked in with other committee members who were setting up to see if they needed help.  No one did.  So I went back to my tent site to relax a bit before things got busy.  After a while, my husband showed up with my chairs (which I had left in our car), the tent stakes, and a few other things I asked him to bring.

One of my favourite parts of the entire evening is the Survivor lap, which happens after the opening ceremonies.  A sea of yellow shirts walking together, with people lining the track and cheering us on.  It’s an amazing site to see.  An even more amazing thing to be a part of.  I always get a little teary-eyed.

One thing most Relays do, including ours, is lap beads.  You buy a string and as you walk, you stop and pick up a bead for each lap.  Personally, I only stop every few laps because I get into a groove when I’m walking and don’t like to stop more than I have to.  Also, the table where the beads are kept gets VERY crowded at times.  The first few Relays I did, I didn’t do the beads, but now I look forward to doing them.

The people in charge of the beads did something new this year.  They had little washers engraved and gave them away when you bought your string.  They didn’t make that many, so not everyone got one.  I got my string early in the evening, so I was able to get a washer.  I think they are planning on making more of them next year.  At least I hope they are.

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The start of the night is always the busiest.  Getting your tent site set up, turning in your monies, last minute team captains’ meeting, opening ceremonies.  And of course this is when most people are on the track.  Sometimes you see people you know from past years.  Sometimes you know their names, sometimes you just remember their faces.  You strike up conversations as you walk, or just nod or say HI as you pass them by.  This year, I ran into one of the city bus drivers I know.  We walked a few laps together and chatted.  Walking with someone always makes time go by faster.

My husband only stayed for a little while.  After he left, I continued to walk, mostly by myself.  My tent site was next to a group I knew, so sometimes I walked with friends.  I was smart enough to bring a second pair of shoes with me, so I occasionally switched my shoes.  It did the trick.  My feet didn’t hurt as much as they would have if I had only worn just one pair.

At one point, I decided to see if I could run a few laps.  It wasn’t easy, but I managed to run 4 laps.  I had to stop after 4 laps because the Luminary Ceremony was getting ready to start.

The Luminary Ceremony is another favourite part of the night for me.  When the sun goes down, everyone lights luminaries in memory of those passed or in honour of those who won their fight or are still fighting.   And the Pipes & Drums band plays Amazing Grace.  It’s so moving, so awe-inspiring.

And then it’s more walking.  And more walking.  And then some more running.  And then back to walking.

I took a few breaks throughout the night to have something to eat or drink, or just to rest a few minutes.  As the night wore on, the number of people there dwindled.  Some stay all night, some don’t.  Some leave for a little while and then come back.  Some sleep for a little while, others don’t.

There are activities that are planned, but I don’t usually participate in them.  I prefer to just walk the track.

Usually around 5am, there is a pancake breakfast.  I love pancakes and by that time, I usually need some food to keep going to the end.  It’s a good time to take a little break.  I ate with a couple ladies I met earlier in the evening.  Pancakes with real maple syrup, and chocolate milk to drink.  And coffee.  Gotta have the coffee.

As it was getting closer to the closing ceremonies, I could feel myself fading.  But I pushed on.  I was determined to keep going as long as I could.  I had a certain number of laps in mind and I really wanted to hit that number.

By 7am when the closing ceremonies started, I was done.  I had done what I set out to do.  I was beyond tired.  And my body was hurting.  But I was proud of what I’d accomplished.  I watched the closing from my tent site, sitting in my chair, hoping to get enough energy to take down my tent and clean up my site.  It took a lot, but I was all ready to go when my husband came to pick me up.

What a great night.

It always is.

But this year was extra special.

I raised $625 – more than I had in any other year.

I walked 55 laps – more than I ever had before.

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And I ran 8 of those laps (2 sets of 4 laps).  I had never run any laps before.

I’m extremely proud of myself.

Thank you to everyone who supported me.  It means a lot to me, more than I can really express.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

 

 

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Relay For Life 2013

This past Friday night was our annual Relay for Life walk for the Canadian Cancer Society. I look forward to this every year. My husband and I began doing the Relay about 10 years ago, when a friend asked us to join their team. We started walking in memory of his dad who died of liver cancer and my stepdad who died of lung cancer. After my own diagnosis, I began walking for myself as well. And I know several people who are survivors as well so I walk in honour of them too.

I have always been on a friends team, but not this year. This year I created my own team. I wasn’t sure what to expect as team captain, but I was excited as well. I got a little bit of a late start this year because I was getting things ready to do the Relay in Chandler with my friend Jeff and his family. I got my fundraising going and asked everyone I knew to be on my team. I did well with my fundraising this year. I’m very happy about that. A few people said they might join my team or come out for part of the night. It was short notice so I knew I might not get very many.

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of 50 laps at the Relay. In Arizona, I got 46, which is the most I’d ever done. I really wanted to hit my goal this year. But even if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to be upset about it because I’d already accomplished a lot this year. With my new shoes, I was pretty sure I could do it. I like to call them my magic shoes because I feel like I can do so much more since I got them LOL.

The day before the Relay, I started packing the things I would need or thought I’d need. I decided to take a screen tent instead of a regular tent since I had no plans to sleep. I set out a couple of chairs, my yoga mat, sunscreen, bug spray, a blanket, extra shirts, a jacket, umbrella (just in case), snacks, a book, and a few other little things. I packed everything except food and water, which I was saving until I was almost ready to leave.

The morning of the Relay, I slept in as late as I could, then got up and started getting ready. M friend Karen was going to pick me up in the afternoon and take me and all my stuff over. Tyler was coming along to help. Once we got there, Tyler helped me get the tent set up and some stuff organized. I picked a pretty good spot too. I hope I can get it next year too. Or at least one in the same area. After we got things set up, Tyler and I did a lap around the track and some stretches to warm myself up. He couldn’t stay because he had other plans, and I understood. I was happy he could help me get set up. I turned in the rest of my monies, signed in at the survivors tent, and waited for the fun to begin.

Opening ceremonies start and speeches given. Now it’s time for the survivors lap. It’s one of the best parts of the night. So many survivors and caregivers. So amazing to see. The track is lined with everyone else clapping and cheering for those walking. I always get teary-eyed. Shortly after, my friend Doug showed up. After he settled in, we hit the track together. About 9:30 or so, my friend Liz showed up. She had never been to a Relay before. She was very excited. I think she’s working a blog post of her own about it. Dan came down as well and brought me some more water and ice. I was almost dark, so we waited for the luminary ceremony to begin. Another one of my favourite parts of the night. This year, I did luminaries in memory of Warren (my stepdad) and David (Dan’s dad), and to honour two of the greatest people I know — Jeff’s dad Alan and Tyler’s mom Joe.

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If you’ve never been to a Relay event before, I would highly recommend you go. The luminary ceremony alone is worth going for. It’s so moving and so touching. Remembering those lost, honouring those still fighting, and celebrating those who’ve won.

After the ceremony, we hit the track again. Liz and I walked together, and Dan and Doug walked together. After a couple of laps, Dan headed back home. He needed to go to work the next day. Doug, Liz and I kept walking. Liz can only stay a few hours, but that’s okay. I’m glad she could make it, no matter how long she could stay. Doug can’t stay all night either, but I knew that too. My friend Sammy, who is on another team, stopped by a couple of times with her boyfriend. We chatted for a few and I shared snacks I’d brought.

Doug takes off to be with his girlfriend, so Liz and I continue on our own. We walk and talk and laugh and joke. She is so awesome. I love her. She’s one of the greatest people I know. She totally rocks. After awhile, Liz has to leave too. I wish she could stay, but I know she can’t. Hopefully next year she can stay for the whole thing. In the end, we walked about 5k together. Pretty awesome. So I walk her to her car, say goodnight and head back to the track. I have a lot more walking to do.

One of the neat things done at Relay are the lap beads. You purchase a cord and add a bead to it for each lap you do. I think it’s cool. And some people get really creative with how they put the beads on. My cord from last year has 35 beads on it and I did the, in sort of a rainbow. This year, I decided to stick its just one colour to make it easier. Each time I took a break from walking I would add the beads and recount them to see how I was doing. I was getting closer and closer to my goal.

About 5am there is free breakfast – pancakes and sausages. And it’s cooked by firefighters. Awesome.

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I sat and watched them cooking for a little bit before getting in line. I washed my breakfast down with some chocolate milk and then head back to the track. I’d been losing steam for a while, so I wasn’t walking as fast but I was still determined to walk as much as I can. It was starting to get light out so I know it’s getting close to the end. I was listening to music on my phone. The same music that helps me get through a tough cardio session at the gym.

At about 6:30am, I did it. I finished my 50th lap. Goal completed. As I sat down at my campsite, and took my string of beads off to place the last one on, I was smiling and a little teary-eyed. It was an emotional moment. I was so proud of myself for accomplishing my goal, but sad my friends weren’t there to see it happen.

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I decided not to walk anymore, mainly because I was incredibly tired and my feet were hurting a bit. Instead, I took down my tent, packed everything up, and waited for the Relay to be officially done. Then I sent a text to Dan to let him know he could pick me up any time. I slept for about 6 hours or so after getting home. I got up, showered, dressed, ate, and watched a bit of tv. I was still pretty tired, so I went to sleep. Next thing I know, Dan is home from work and its 9pm. I stayed up for a bit longer then went back to sleep again. I woke up about 10am and finally felt like I had gotten enough sleep to make for the lack of sleep at Relay LOL.

Relay 2013 was really awesome, maybe the best one yet. I can hardly wait to get started on next year’s Relay. I’ll be on the committee next year, as well as a team captain. I’m very excited about that. I already have a few ideas churning in my head.

Thank you to everyone who supported me, sponsored me, and helped me prepare. Thank you to Tyler for helping me get set up that day. Thank you to Karen for the ride there. And a special thank you to Doug and Liz for spending part of the night with me. Everyone of you helped me reach my goal. You all rock my socks!

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Chandler Relay for Life

This year, I had the honour and privilege of travelling to Arizona to participate in the Relay for Life with my friend Jeff and his family. This is the story of that amazing experience.

I’ve participated in the Relay at home for several years now. Jeff and his family have done the Relay near them as well. Last year, Jeff and I half-jokingly said maybe next year I’d travel to Arizona to do their Relay with them, and he’d come to Canada and do mine with me. The more we talked about it, the better the idea sounded.

I arrived several days early, partly because that was the best travel day for me and partly because I wanted to get myself used to the hotter weather. I’m glad I did. While I adjusted to the time change easily, it took a day or two to get used to the weather. It gets pretty hot in Arizona, and I’m not used to it being hot this early in the year. At least they have very little humidity.

I had met his parents, Alan and Marion, many years ago, although they didn’t really remember me. They are wonderful people. So nice. And they happily welcomed me. A few members of Jeff’s family came in for the Relay as well. His Aunt Judy and cousin Kevin arrived on Wednesday. His Aunt Eileen and cousin Barry arrived on Thursday. His family is a riot! They had me laughing so hard at times, I could barely breathe! They made me feel like I was a part of the family. That really meant a lot to me.

Friday morning, Jeff and Kevin went with Alan to help set up stuff at the Relay. The rest of us had lunch and then met up with them before going to the Relay. The Relay was held at a local high school. The teams sites were on the inside of the track. Our site was pretty much in front of the stage area. It was a pretty good spot. We got our site set up, then waited for the festivities to begin.

I was anxious to see how they did things compared to how we do things at home. It started pretty much the same — speeches, prayer, national anthem. Then it was time for the Survivor Lap. Everyone on our team is either a survivor or caregiver, so we were all out there. I proudly wore my purple survivor t-shirt. There was so many of us. It was awesome to see so many purple shirts. As we were walking around the track, the announced that there was one person who is a 43-year survivor! Incredible!! We finished the lap and the Relay was underway.

One of the best parts of the night was seeing so many kids there. I was told a lot of high school students take part in the Relay every year. I’m not sure I’ve seen as many kids at home. And many kids serve on the committees as well. That’s so amazing.

I was trying to take in as much as I could. I was taking note of the things they do differently. I was extremely impressed by how well run the Relay was. I think they do an amazing job. And I got several ideas to suggest back home. I told Alan about a few things we do differently, and he seemed really interested.

I had a goal for myself for the evening. I wanted to walk 50 laps. It was a goal I set at the beginning of the year. I did 35 laps at the Relay at home last year, so I thought I should be able to do 50 this year. I took an extra pair of sneakers, just in case. I’m glad I did too, because I had to change shoes around lap 10 or so.

Early in the evening, there was a dinner for survivors and caregivers. It was provided by a local restaurant. What a great idea. We got little gift bags too. After that, my real walking began.

When the sun went down, it was time for the luminary ceremony. The luminaries were lined up along the outside of the track. They went around and lit all the candles. Then handed out candles to everyone there and they were lit as well. Someone gave a little speech about the ceremony, and the overhead lights were turned off. Then everyone silently walked around the track with their candles in hand. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen it done like that before. I loved it.

I walked mostly by myself. Jeff and his family walk a lot faster than I do, but that’s ok. I didn’t really mind walking by myself. I had my phone with me, so I had lots of music to listen to. I tried to walk as many laps at a time as I could. I think I was doing at least 10 laps at a time. I’d walk until my feet hurt too much, then I’d sit for a few minutes before going out again. A few times people would cheer me on as I walked by their sites. A couple of times people would slow down and walk with me a while and chat. One guy would ask me what lap number I was on as I walked by. Late in the evening, a woman offered to buy me a coffee. I gladly accepted it. Another guy asked me if I had stopped at all because every time he looked up, I was on the track. I said yeah, I’ve taken a few breaks, but I was trying hard for 50 laps, so I wasn’t stopping for too long. I got a lot of positive feedback from people. It was pretty awesome.

Throughout the evening, there was something called the “spirit stick”. Someone would carry it around the track, then hand it off to someone else and ask why they Relay. I thought that was pretty neat. Someone hand it to me late in the evening, or i should say early in the morning. I carried it around for 2 or 3 laps. A guy walked up beside me and asked if he could walk with me. He said he really wanted at least one more lap and he had seen me walking throughout the night. He was impressed by how much I was walking. His name was Will. We had a nice chat as we walked. As we neared the stage, someone with the microphone asked me to come up since I had the spirit stick. They asked my name and my team name and why I Relay. I said, “my name is Jennifer and my team is Allie’s Army. I relay because I can. I’m a 3 1/2 year survivor, I lost my stepdad to lung cancer, my husband lost his father to cancer, and I have friends fighting the fight. I Relay because I can.” They thought that was a great answer.

I handed over the spirit stick and kept walking. It was early morning and people were starting to pack up their sites. I was very tired and my feet hurt, but I kept going. At lap 46, Marion stopped me and said things were winding down. They were getting ready to start the closing ceremonies. I could have kept going, but I decided to stop. I slowly walked to the bathroom. Then waited while things finished up. We packed everything into the cars including ourselves, then headed home to get some much needed sleep.

In the end, I walked 46 laps, which is 11.5 miles or 18.5 kilometres.

I didn’t make my goal, but I’m not upset about it. I did the best I could. And in the end, I still walked more than I did last year. I’m pretty proud of myself.

And besides, I have another chance at 50 laps next month when I do the Relay at home.

I want to thank Jeff, Alan, Marion, Judy, Kevin, Eileen, and Barry for allowing me to be a part of their team. I had a great time. And I hope to do it again next year.

 

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Relay For Life 2012

I started writing this post during this year’s event, and continued writing it through the weekend.
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I have been doing this walk for many years now, having lost my stepdad to lung cancer. Of course, now I also do it for me. I look forward to this event with great anticipation. If you have never attended this kind of event, you should put it on your To Do list. It’s awe-inspiring and motivational. The number of people who take time out of their busy schedules to honour someone they know who either lost their fight or is still fighting or who won their battle is just amazing. Not just those that walk, but also those that volunteer their time or just come out to support those who do. It’s hard to describe the feeling of it all. It’s something everyone should experience.

As I stood in line to purchase luminaries in memory of my stepdad Warren, my husband’s dad David (who lost his battle long before I met my husband), and to honour my friend Jeff’s dad Alan, I met a lovely woman named Mika. She had already purchased several but needed to get 2 more. She was upset because she only had enough cash to get one and you could only pay cash. I immediately told her I would get the other one for her. She was so touched that she started to tear up. She asked me my name and said I would forever be in her prayers. She herself is a two-time survivor. We chatted for a few moments before I had to leave to start my volunteer work. What a lovely lady. Later she came into the Survivors Tent to get her shirt and came over to thank me again.

I saw and chatted with many wonderful people this year. Many I had seen before. Many remembered me from past years. We don’t always know each others names, but we at all there for a common cause so we are almost like family. I ran into a couple of ladies I know from the gym. I saw people I used to be on a team with. They said they almost didn’t recognize me. It had been almost a year since they had seen me last. I’ve changed a lot in that year.

The team I walked with this year was a friend named Doug, whom my husband plays softball with, and his family. By the end of the night, I sort of felt like they were my family too. A great bunch of people. I felt honored to be a member of their team.

Doug was volunteering as well this year. He as shuttling survivors who had trouble walking to and from the Survivors Tent. He also had the privilege of driving a couple of survivors around the track during the Survivors Lap, which kicks off the event. One lady he had in his cart cut the ribbon to start the event. Another lady was 92 years old and a survivor for 55 years. How amazing is that!

Another friend named Dale, whom Doug and Dan also play ball with, came out for a few hours just to support us. He even walked several laps with me. He was like my pseudo-trainer, keeping me going, giving me support, encouraging me to keep going when I wasn’t sure I could.

When I was gearing up for the walk this year, I set a goal of 50 laps. The track is 400 metres long, so 50 laps would be 20 kilometres. I knew it was a very lofty goal. In all the years I’ve been doing the walk, if I add up all the laps I’ve done each year, I don’t think it adds up to 50. So I knew it was going to be hard, but I’ve never been as strong as I am now. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do something so big. I tried really hard, pushing myself each time I was on the track. The music they had playing was good motivation. The fellowship of the other walkers helped keep me going as well. I did as many laps as I could before stopping for a rest and going back out.

We stopped for a short while to light the candles in the luminaries and have a moment of silence to remember those who lost their battle and honour those still fighting and those who have won. Such an amazing moment.

Back to walking. My feet hurt a lot. I was so glad I had on my gym shoes. My shoulders started hurting, which I thought was a little weird. I used a couple moves from my stretch class to help with that. I wished I had my yoga mat so I could have done more stretching. I’ll have to remember that for next year. I got a foot massage at one point which was awesome. Definitely need to do that again next year!

In the end, I managed to walk 30 laps, which is equal to 12 kilometres. Even though I didn’t meet my goal, I can’t be too upset with myself. It’s still more than I ever walked before. I’m pretty proud of myself. I think I did really well. But look out for next year. I’m going to amaze everyone!!

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