At age 18 I suffered a mental breakdown and spent brief amounts of time in both juvenile and adult psychiatric wards. Eighteen months later I was a stronger person. I felt years beyond my age and I compared nearly all of my subsequent life experiences to that difficult time.
Six years later as a Peace Corps volunteer, I experienced life without running water or electricity, waking up to the sound of my tin roof expanding like an oven in 6:00 am, 97 degree and rising temperature. This was the most physically challenging period of my life, and once complete, became the new comparative ground for nearly all my life experiences.
Five years later I was diagnosed with cancer. Prozac and the Peace Corps had nothing on cancer. Nothing. In a sense, cancer was one more difficult segment for me to overcome, but there was a key difference.
The cancer wasn’t mine, which made the cancer so beautiful. In it I saw my wife, living on without me. My daughter was grown and had little recollection of me. My parents had suffered a tragedy. My brother continued to weep and my best friends continued to think of me when they were together.
Cancer became a comparative point for life—not my life, but the life of those around me and not. As sad as it was to imagine life without me, it was sweeter than the alternative—my death.
To me, Relay for Life epitomizes the concept of “us”. The cancer is not mine. Nor is the fight, the struggle, the suffering, and the conquest associated with it. As cancer continues to invade our lives, we continue to relay against it in celebration and support of life.