Exactly 3 years ago, I was 1 of 50 students that helped organize the Relay For Life of Washington University in St. Louis. As the sun rose on Francis Field the morning of March 6, 2011 (exactly 3 years ago), we proudly displayed the total amount raise: almost $260,000. By the end of the fundraising season, that total would reach over $275,000! We surpassed our goal by thousands of dollars and I left Francis Field feeling so proud and elated at what a group of college kids had accomplished. After being awake over 24 hours, I went home and crawled into bed for the next few hours. I awoke to the devastating news that a dear friend, Erica Gough Paul, had passed away after bravely fighting colon cancer. She was only 29 years old and recently married. I cried and cried and cried and when I could no longer cry, those tears turned into anger. I was angry that someone so bright and full of life was taken from this world too soon because of cancer. That’s why I Relay. I was given a second and third chance in life and it’s my responsibility, my DUTY, to Relay for those individuals that no longer have a voice to fight for a cure.
When I was 6 months old, my pediatrician found a lump in my stomach. She quickly referred my parents to Children’s National Medical Center and within a few days I was diagnosed with cancer, a fibrosarcoma to be exact. After having surgery and removing the tumor, doctors informed my parents I would never have to worry about cancer again. A year later and the cancer came back aggressively. I now had a rhabdomyosarcoma that was on multiple organs. Doctors didn’t really know how to treat me because my type of cancer was so rare. I had surgery once again and underwent 2 rounds of chemotherapy for a year. On May 21, 1993, at 2.5 years old, I was declared cancer-free. This May, I will celebrate 21 years cancer-free. Luckily, I’ve had no relapses and very few side effects! My height is stunted but ironically, I’m still taller than the national average. That’s what happens when everyone in your family is 5’10” or taller…I’m only 5’6”! I also deal with a mild case of lymphedema in one leg which is dealt with by wearing a compression brace when I have a flare-up (this usually occurs during extremely warm weather).
I often question why I survived when my odds were around 20% yet the little boy next to me in the hospital with odds of survival around 80% didn’t survive. My parents always say: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I’ve been given this opportunity to live a long, fulfilled life and it’s my responsibility to live it to the fullest and to help find a cure.
I have had a long relationship with the American Cancer Society. During my freshmen year of high school, my parents told me I needed to volunteer. I wanted to volunteer with an organization that had meaning to me. By the time I graduated high school, I had over 500 hours of community service with the American Cancer Society. Furthermore, I started the first all-teenager Relay For Life team in my county which raised close to $2,500 its first year. I also had the opportunity to lobby the Michigan government in Lansing for additional cancer funding. In college, I stayed active in Relay For Life. My freshmen year I was the Luminaria/Survivor speaker. My other 3 years of college, I was part of the committee that organized Relay For Life on campus. I also spoke around the St. Louis area, telling my story and urging others to get involved. For my final 2 years of college I also worked at the Divisional Level, overseeing all the Relay For Life events in 8 states!
The Relay For Life of Washington University in St. Louis was consistently one of the Top 5 Collegiate events in the entire country…and we are only a school of 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students! Furthermore, a few of the years we raised the most amount of money per person! Participating and organizing the Relay For Life event at Wash U was a highlight of my collegiate years. By the time I graduated from Wash U, we had raised over $1 million for the American Cancer Society during my 4 years of college.
Why do I Relay For Life? I Relay for those individuals that never got the opportunity to Relay. I Relay for Erica Gough Paul, who had her life cut short by cancer. I Relay for Katie Wagner, who passed away this past September (2013). I Relay for husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, children and nieces and nephews. I Relay for parents, especially my parents, who should never hear the words: “Your child has cancer.” I Relay to give a voice to so many that no longer have a voice. I Relay because I love dearly and never want anyone close to me to suffer this horrible disease.
Why do you Relay For Life?