Sunday, July 24, 2011

Relay For Life: An Experience I'll Never Forget

Friday, July 15, was a day I had been preparing and planning for almost four months: Relay For Life!

It was such an amazing day spent with our closest family and friends. It really culminated the four weeks spent planning, preparing and raising money toward such a good cause.

The morning of the event was crazy. I took the day off (thank goodness) and spent most of it running around and getting everything ready for our campsite, including getting the essentials for an all-night event: games, food and energy drinks.

I got to Lutheran High School around 4 p.m. to start setting up our campsite and help the Relay committee where I could. And I really can't go any further without saying thank you to two of my biggest helpers for the months leading up to the event and during the event: Elyse Schuman and Erin Fletcher!
These lovely ladies totally rock! Elyse especially helped me plan out all the little details I didn't think of, including ordering the awesome t-shirts and helping to set up the campsite, and Erin was a huge help also! The Schumans/Fletchers (including Frank, Taylor, Jeff and even little Garrett - don't worry you'll meet them all soon) have helped us in more ways than we can even begin to count, and I'm not just talking Relay. They have adopted us (meaning my dad, sister and I) as part of their family - and there's no way I could have done this or had as much success without their help!

If it weren't for them I don't think our campsite would have looked near as good as it did.
Nor would we have made nearly $60 that night at our fundraising table selling cookies, jewelry, flip flops and other things! Elyse's friend Cherri also offered salon services, including eyebrow waxing and hand massages, as a fundraiser.
That's the youngest Schuman (and apparently my dad's favorite), Taylor, there on the far right behind the table in a pink tutu. :)

Once the campsite was set up, it was time for opening ceremonies. Apparently since I was on the committee as the marketing/PR chair, I had to stand up there and look important. :) It helped that I was one of the few committee members who received cheers and applause from my team when I was introduced - because I had the best team ever.

I did have a little something to boast about though - right before the opening ceremonies I found out that Fox 2 Now had received my news release and was filming our event set to air later that evening! You can find the full newscast here. I thought that was pretty cool!

During the opening ceremony, each survivor had a chance to introduce themselves by saying their name, their cancer and how long they had been a survivor. After a little while I noticed my dad still hadn't come up to introduce himself yet, then I found him hiding at the back of the line looking a little nervous. When I approached him he told me he didn't want to introduce himself, so I insisted that I do it for him, because I knew our team would be disappointed if they didn't get a chance to cheer for him, too.

My uncle still gets a kick out of what I said: "My dad is being a little shy, so I'm going to introduce him for him." For anyone who knows my dad, "shy" isn't exactly the word you'd use to describe him.

So I proceeded to tell everyone that his name is Bob, he has brain cancer and he has been a survivor for one year. Cue hoots, hollers and loud applause from the crowd. :)

After the ceremony the survivors and caregivers kicked off the Relay with the initial lap, and as you can see, my dad seemed to have gotten over his stage fright as he proudly gave his best "Miss America" wave to the crowd. :)

This survivors/caregivers lap was special for us because my dad doesn't have just one caregiver, but many. The photo above only shows a part of our support system, which includes (from left-right) my sister Kayla, Elyse Schuman, (my dad), my aunt Mikey, my uncle Fred and me. I'm pretty sure Erin Fletcher is the one taking the picture, and I'm not sure where Elyse's husband, Frank, is.
Another big part of my dad's support group are his, what I like to call, "biker buddies." :) I called them that when I was trying to get them all together for a picture, and they told me it didn't sound "macho" enough, so I decided to call them the "biker dudes." Just to clarify, when I say "bikers" I mean bicyclists, not motorcyclists, in case there is any confusion.

Side note: My dad was actually on a biking trip with some of those guys in Colorado when he had an accident and discovered he had a tumor. And that's where it all began.

But whatever you want to call them, they are dear friends to my dad and several of them stuck it out with us throughout the entire event.
The next lap was the team lap and we proudly carried our sign, Bobby's Big Shots, and donned our awesome team shirts, whose design is courtesy of Stacey LaGarce, a good friend of Elyse's. Many of you may wonder where our team name comes from, but unfortunately it's a long story, and it's inappropriately funny, so if you really want to know you'll have to ask me in person. :)
And as you can see, my dad is Captain Big Shot, which is a whole other funny story on its own, but also inappropriate for this blog. Sorry, folks, gotta keep it PG! :)

The night surprisingly flew by from there, as we rocked out to the Johny James Band, thanks to my co-worker Jim Nelson, who many of you may know as the graphic designer here at SCC. They were awesome and it was super generous of them to donate their time and services to our Relay event, as well as fight the heat!
My friends and I mostly passed our time just by sitting around, chatting and catching up, as well as playing washers, volleyball (even if it was the sit-down version) and later in the night an epic game of wiffle ball that ended up taking the majority of our time - but we had a blast! And I still can't believe how many of them stayed the whole night with us. I must say, I have some pretty awesome friends. :)
Then there was the Luminaria ceremony, which honors all those who have lost their lives to cancer, those who have won the battle, and those still fighting it.
"As the sun sets over campsites and darkness falls, the night is brightened by the glow of illuminated bags called luminaria, each bearing the name of someone who has battled cancer. Some celebrate cancer survivors, while others help us honor and remember those gone too soon. All represent someone special who has been profoundly affected by cancer and the family and friends who continue to fight back in their honor."
- Relay For Life of Central St. Charles website
We all gathered in the stands as all laps and activities were shut down for the ceremony and the lights were turned off. They had arranged several luminaria into one word on the bleachers across from us: HOPE. Then a cancer survivor's mother told a very moving story about her daughter, who turned out to be one of the event co-chairs. We ended the ceremony with a silent lap as we walked past hundreds of luminaria that lit up the track. It was a special and very emotional ceremony for many people.

The activities continued after that, including Scooter McCougar and Fredbird sightings.

One of my personal favorite laps of the night was the Queen of Relay, where a guy from each team had to dress up like a "queen" and try to collect the most money from other teams, as well as compete in a pageant. I wasn't sure who from my team was willing to step up to the challenge, but we ended up finding out competitor.

Meet Jasmine, otherwise known as Dan Mareschal, one of my best friend's husbands. He showed no fear as we dressed him in a tutu, feather boa, crown, fairy wings, Elton John glasses and a pet bird he affectionately named "Freddy." And don't forget the purse! Dan... I mean, Jasmine, did his (her?) best to collect as much money as possible around the track in 15 minutes.

(S)he ended up making a good chunk of change, but sadly, he did not win Queen of Relay. He didn't go down without a fight though, as he sang "Happy Birthday" Marilyn Monroe-style to my dad (even though it wasn't his birthday).

One of the last activities of the night was the Fight Back Ceremony, which we did end up winning!

As you can see, this ceremony involved a turtle, a t-shirt and a kiddie pool. What you may not be able to infer is that we had to cover the turtle in sunscreen, put on a t-shirt and sunglasses, get him into the pool and fill it with water. And we (Pete, Elyse and I) did it the fastest! The purpose of this ceremony was to show how we can fight back against cancer by taking necessary precautions (like wearing sunscreen).

The night began to wind down from there. This picture of the track was taken around 5 a.m. Then, before we knew it, it was time to start packing up! And amazingly enough, my dad managed to stay throughout the whole night without so much as the blink of an eye!

We came, we saw, we conquered! And boy, what a night it was. We ended it with closing ceremonies, where I was recognized as a $1,000+ fundraiser, and our team was recognized as a Gold Team for raising more than $5,700!

I couldn't have been more proud of my team! We ended up being the #2 fundraising team, just $100 behind the first place team. Never in my dreams would I have thought that we would be capable of raising that much money! And it was a personal fundraising best for me!

Once the closing ceremonies were over, we did our last lap as a team. All I remember thinking was how bad my feet hurt and how I didn't think I could do another lap. Then I thought, heck, if my dad can do it, I can do it. And I think that's been my motto throughout my entire experience with Relay, and in life. If my dad can fight cancer, then I can do anything I set my mind to. Thanks Dad, for always being my inspiration and motivation.

There aren't too many mornings that I'm awake to see the sunrise, but that day was special. As I drove home after being awake for almost a full 24 hours, I couldn't help but smile. Partly because I was finally going home to sleep in my bed, but even more because I was radiating from the love and support I felt and saw that day from all of our family and friends. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.