Tomorrow evening, a group of residents of Pagosa Country and their friends will participate in the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life. We will gather at the field at Pagosa Springs High School and engage in a number of activities, the first purpose of which is to raise funds for the Society — money for programs that aid in the battle against diseases that claim all too many victims.
Participants garner pledges of money and, in return, in teams, they walk laps in relay fashion throughout the night. There is a luminaria ceremony, with glowing lights acknowledging those who lost their battles with cancer. There is food, music, games, entertainment. It is, at one and the same time, a fun and poignant event.
The Relay gets underway with a Survivors Lap, in which many of those among us who have won a battle with cancer take a lap around the field together — an act that symbolizes the fact the participants are members of a tribe, of sorts. A tribe with many shared pains, fears, triumphs. A tribe whose members, if they are honest, know they share knowledge of a fact that everyone of age should be aware of. Those who march tomorrow know they are “survivors” only in a manner of speaking. They, unlike those memorialized at other junctures in the event, have bought some time. What we have survived is, usually, a certain way of passing, and often a very painful one. And we have traded it for the uncertainty that others possess — a not-knowing that allows them to avoid persistent awareness of their mortality.
Those of us who have heard the words, “You have cancer,” who have anxiously made our ways through the array of possible treatments and outcomes and have had to make a choice — those of us who have undergone treatment and have come out the other side with a prospect for more time— come away with a reinforced sense of our mortality. Thus, many of us say we have gained a deeper appreciation of what we have, of each day we are blessed to experience, of those we love, of what is important and what is not. What we all surely know is that our days are numbered and, thus, the quality of what is left is critically important.
Many of us who will make the trip around the track tomorrow evening during the Survivors Lap are in our 50s, our 60s, our 70s and older. The money raised at the event, and in similar events across the country, supports research that will lead to new drugs, new procedures. Those of us who march understand these are simply delaying tactics for people of our age. We are lucky to have bought some time; our task is to squeeze as much out of it as we can, to discern value in people and things and to take advantage of our opportunities.
There will be others noted at the event, however, for whom advances in techniques and tactics in the battle against cancer have a much more profound meaning. Read the lead story in this week’s PREVIEW and you will meet three of them. They are our youngest comrades — our little friends and neighbors who, like us, have done battle with cancer. They are the precious youngsters like Oceana, Elizabeth and Trey. They are the ones who stand to win the most if we win this battle. They are the ones for whom we will walk our laps, and for whom all of us should make a donation.
We survivors — of long and short standing — embrace them. And we walk for them and the chance that they can be walking around a track in a half-century’s time, bearing the gift of full and fruitful lives.