Featurette Friday On A Thursday

Featurette Friday is the name.

Kindness is the game

Typically, every other Friday I interview a person with the majority of questions focusing on kindness.

But why?

Because we see negativity every day and I think it is important to focus on the positive and remind ourselves that there are wonderful people in this world.

No matter a persons background, status, or creed I believe they have been shown kindness in their life and have shown others kindness as well.

And I would like to tell that story.

It is actually Thursday, but I was busy Friday with an amazing event, hence why Featurette Friday was switched to today temporarily.

This week I am doing things a little differently.

Instead of focusing on one person I will be focusing on an event I attended and my experience there as well as some other people who attended.

Relay For Life (RFL) is an event hosted by the American Cancer Society .

I find it interesting and important to understand how a tradition or an event got started, where it found its footing and how it came to be a success. I want to briefly go over how Relay for Life became an event that is now known and done worldwide.

Doctors already do so much for us as patients, even if we do not like their suggestions to cut back on the snacks, get out and exercise more and stopping our bad habits, they really only have our best interests at heart. It should come as no surprise that Relay for Life was started in the mid-1980s by a colorectal surgeon in Washington state by the name of Dr. Gordy Klatt.

Dr. Klatt wanted to wanted to raise money and help fight the disease known as cancer that has already taken too much and too many away from us and he started by doing something he knew, something he loved-running. He decided in May of 1985 to spend 24 hours at a track at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma Washington, going more than 83 miles which shows pure dedication and his desire to make a difference.

He raised money as 300 of his friends and family each paid $25 dollars to run or walk 30 minutes with him while he was on the track. That quickly added up, and thanks to his endeavors, that first year, he raised not only awareness, but $27,000 to fight cancer.

While proving one person can make a difference by his actions that day, he was still brainstorming while walking/running on that track wondering how he could make a bigger impact and get communities involved. Later that year, he formed a committee to play the first relay event known as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

Per the American Cancer Website (http://www.cancer.org/involved/participate/relayforlife/history-of-relay-for-life)

"In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first team relay event on the track at the colorful, historical Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000. An indescribable spirit prevailed at the track and in the tents that dotted the infield."

He started a tradition that is now known as Relay for Life. This past Friday and Saturday, I was able to experience the event and the overwhelming emotions that came with it.

I accepted the responsibility of being a team captain when asked if I would want to be one for our hospital. My responsibility would be forming a team, fund-raising, organizing walkers-and enjoying Relay.

Having a short time to fundraise, I made an extremely modest goal of $1000 for our team and $300 for myself. My first clue on how much Relay means to others in my life, in my community was my ability to witness firsthand the kindness that was shown in the outpouring of love in the form of donations from friends and family who helped us surpass our goal. When we entered Relay on Friday at 12:40p.m. we had $1350 collected, when we left Relay we had $2173 collected.

With the help of generous friends who offered a canopy to sit under for the 24 hours, a tent to nap in, ideas on how to keep cool, and reminders to bring my sunblock and bug spray, we got the site set up on Friday.

The people next to our site, noticed that my friend Ruth and I were struggling to set up the canopy as it takes 4 people to put it up and there was only the two of us, they immediately jumped up and offered to help us out. That was the first of many, many kindnesses I experienced while at Relay.

There are three main concepts of Relay.

The first is Celebrate.

The overwhelming joy and positivity radiating from everyone there-committee members, fellow teams, walkers, survivors, was palpable and contagious.

We kicked off Relay with our inaugural walk at 2:00 p.m. with our feet pounding the track to "Let's get it started" was reason enough to celebrate.

But an event focusing fundraising efforts to eradicate cancer would be depressing with no time to celebrate right?


There is so much joy in everyone's heart. I was amazed at how many people I recognized that I did not realize would be there. So many people have been affected by cancer, either personally or have had a loved one affected with it. Celebrating in Relay allows us to celebrate our survivors, our fighters, the people who haven't given up and keep on ticking even though their prognosis may have not been the best. We celebrate the caretakers who give their time and support to their family and friends who are battling cancer.

The day was going by extremely quickly, I arrived around 12:40 to set up with my amazing friend Ruth and from that point on I was busy taking donations, giving away freebies to anyone that walked by our tent, giving the rundown of the event to my walkers that showed up to walk, and having a wonderful time.

Around 6:00 p.m. our first opportunity to truly celebrate presented itself in the Survivors Lap. The people on the track at that time were only survivors who were lined up in—diagnosed 1 year ago or less, 1-5 years ago, 5-10 years ago, and 10 years or more.

That moment was breathtaking and bone chilling and I cried. Shamelessly.

I cried out of sadness that people have to battle cancer and all the other diseases in the world, I cried because life is not fair, I cried because we have not found a cure-yet.

I cried because people face adversity with such strength and grace. I cried because there are so many who want to give up but don't because they have loved ones who cheer them on. I cried at the beauty that is life, because of the complexity and mystery of some diseases, and I cried for those who are brave enough to face it with their feisty-ness.

To be witness of strength and fortitude was simply amazing and left me feeling emotionally raw and exposed. These survivors, were saying a big screw you to cancer and embracing life to the fullest. They were choosing to do their lap and show everyone there, especially themselves, that they were willing to fight.

I spoke with Kristy Bilek, 31, who has participated in Relay For Life for many years. She also believes in celebrating our survivors and caretakers and knows that that every action we take to help battle cancer, can truly make a difference in this world.

SPW: Why are you participating in this event? What prompted you to participate?

I have participated in Relay For Life for many years. First in Newaygo county and then in Muskegon county. At first I started participating in Relay because who doesn't know someone who has been affected by cancer and everyone I know would love to see a cure for such a horrible disease. It wasn't until a few years after I first started that cancer truly hit me personally.

First a young lady I went to school with that was a few years younger than me was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer and ended up passing away just a few weeks before her high school graduation. Then it hit even closer to home when my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away shortly after. This was one of the most devastating events of my life. Years later my other grandma was also diagnosed with lung cancer. She was like a mother to me and I want to continue to make her proud by doing everything I can to put an end to cancer. Throughout the years that I have been doing Relay I have witnessed family members, friends, friends and family of friends and even friends children who have been diagnosed with cancer, some of whom have beat this horrible disease and some who have been taken from us. Because of this reason I will continue to Relay!

That was the consensus of everyone I talked to, they were there because cancer affected them and wanted to make a difference but the passion exuded was amazing. People wanted to see a change, they wanted to effect a change for family members and for strangers. The people there know what it is like to watch someone fight for their life and know how cancer can wreak havoc on people's lives and that is why they were willing to do whatever they could to help stop a disease that has taken too much already.

During the survivor lap, a survivor was being pushed in a wheelchair by her friends and family. She was in the category of being diagnosed in less than one year. She flagged her person pushing her chair to stop right in front of our tent sight. I heard her ask if anyone knew who did the luminary decorated in her honor. I let her know who did and her family began snapping pictures and she erupted into sobs because of the thoughtfulness that someone would remember her while she was fighting for her life. These were not simply bags with names and decorations on them, each one represented a person, a fight, a story.

The most beautiful and heart wrenching part of the event for me was the Luminaria Ceremony. After dark, there is a ceremony where those have been touched by cancer and those who have lost their battle to the disease are honored and remembered during the Luminaria Ceremony.

Bags are filled with sand and lit candles, are decorated in honor or in memory of loved ones and placed around the track. The glow of the bags line the track as people take time to remember those who have been affected and those we lost.

We walked in silence both warmed and chilled by the too many bags lining the track. The walk was momentous even it if was merely putting one foot in front of the other while letting the tears cascade down our faces in silence. It was a moment to walk side by side with the community, some who are grieving for those they lost, some who are remembering their battle and triumphs they faced with cancer, and a moment for us all to reflect on healing.

After the luminaria ceremony it was down to me and my husband. The walkers who committed to late night had issues come up so they did not make it. Technically, a team should have one person on the track at all times. My husband and I took turns walking. Finally, around 2:00 a.m. I felt exhausted. I had been up all day, I had set up the tent site and honestly guess my body is getting too old to do an all-nighter so I turned in.

Have I mentioned my hubby is awesome? While I napped, he walked straight on through. Almost 5 hours he kept trekking so I could get my sleep on. He said he did not mind though because everyone else on the track was so friendly and they all had a running conversation. My husband can be a pretty quiet guy in social situations, so if he said the people on the track were nice, I know they had to be super nice to pull him out of his shell.

I woke around 6:30 a.m. I just missed the sunrise but started my day off with a mile walk and went to the restroom. I did have to jockey in the bathroom for a mirror, with the hoards of teen girls in there, then I remembered I was a beautiful woman and I didn't need to worry about my appearance so I changed and boogied on out to enjoy breaky with my hubby.

At the beginning of the event they let us know we were going to have fifteen 24 hour walkers participating in the event. The 24 hour walkers would actually, by the time event was over, walk 18 hours in total with the 6 hours minused for breaks and eating and other things they needed to do.

There was one man who stood out, Steve who was a 24 hour walker.

The theme was superheroes and not only did he have awesome costumes he changed into every few hours, including batman, superman, and wonderwoman-he had a contagious, attitude. I did not talk with him on day one but on day two we began talking. We were walking and talking on the track, I interrupted him and his father, on Steve's 250th lap (that would make it 62.5 miles) in case you were wondering.

We pulled off the track to chat a bit. I spoke with Steve, 45 and his father Richard 71 about why they were walking.

SPW: Why are you walking 24 hours?

Steve: Because people lose their lives to cancer. This is a small gesture, a small dedication to those who have had to face a battle of a lifetime.

Richard: I don’t walk the 24 hours, but I do get my laps in. I walk because we have had family that has been diagnosed with cancer and a family friend passed away from cancer.

SPW: What is your personal motto/outlook on life?

Steve: Well, this man right here (pointed to his father Richard) has taught me that we should treat others how we would want to be treated, you know the Golden Rule. Always kill them with kindness.

Richard: Definitely what he said. Always treat others how you want to be treated.

SPW: Steve, what inspires you to keep walking for 18 hours?

Steve: Smiles keep me going. I've changed my outfits a few times and the smiles and grins from everyone on the track keeps me going. Someone has it worse than me right now. They are fighting for their lives. They inspire me to keep walking.

Readers, never say a smile does not do anything. It can inspire someone to keep going, it can ignite the fire that is dimming in their soul to keep going.

The end of the event was coming to a close. There was one last component that Relay believes in which is the Fight Back component. It is the moment everyone is held accountable for their own health. We make a personal commitment to save lives by fighting cancer. It can be a simple commitment like finally telling your doctor about the mole that has changed on your shin, quitting smoking or choosing to talk to government officials about cancer and what they can do to make an impact.

I spoke with Angela W. who was with her children at the event. She was walking on her friends team.

SPW: Why are you participating in Relay?

Angela: I have had close people in my life pass away from cancer. We lost my dad when I was young. My grandpa and my uncle also had cancer and passed away. I didn't get involved until my friend Erins dad passed away from cancer. In a weird way, it has brought us closer together. You bond with someone who has had similar struggles, you know you want to help them and you want to do what you can to avoid other people going through the pain you went through from losing someone to cancer.

My uncle, Ron passed away a few years ago. We started a golfing fund-raiser where we pick a family or an individual who are struggling with medical bills and the funds raised goes to them so it can help alleviate some stress during a rough time.

SPW: I noticed you brought your children to todays event, why is that?

Angela: I brought kids today, because I want them to know who they are fighting for. I want them to realize that we are fighting for a cure and I believe by doing so we are doing God's work.

SPW: How do you fight back against cancer?

Angela: I chose to act. My dad died when I was 7 years old. It is easy to get stuck in the mentality of 'poor me'. Instead of feeling sorry for myself though, I decided to be proactive and decided the best way to fight back against cancer was to raise awareness and fund-raise both for Relay for Life and for the benefit in honor of my Uncle Ron, and to show my children they can make a difference too.

The entire event was full of people like Kristy, Steve, Richard, and Angela. Almost every person had been affected by cancer in one way or the other.

There was no forced niceties, there was not any awkward moment. No one was embarrassed for you if you cried.

There was no judgment.

Everyone present the committee, the volunteers, the teams, caregivers, survivors, and family members emanated compassion.

Everyone there knows how cruel cancer can be, how it can sidetrack dreams, how it can put a pause in the middle of someone's life, how it can uproot hope and faith, how it can take away loved ones and show no remorse.

There was no time for anything else at that event except love and compassion for everyone there trying to make a difference. Trying to stop others from dealing with the hardship and pain of cancer by raising funds to go towards research, towards educational material, towards Hope Lodge (a place where patients and their families stay during treatments), towards Ride to Recovery (a program where volunteers drive cancer patients to and from appointments for no cost) and many other programs throughout the American Cancer Society.

I ask that you Celebrate those in your lives you love and who have conquered.

I ask that you Remember those you have loved and lost.

And I especially ask that you fight. Always fight for a better world for our family, friends and future generations.

For more information on Relay for Life events or other events by the ACS, please call this toll free number: 1-800-227-2345


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