Why Do You Relay? Do the Walk for Life

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No one knew I was wearing a wig.

I thought high school was rough enough with college applications and AP tests. Yet, this was nothing compared to my recent reality, my cancer. For a while, when I looked in the mirror, I didn't see cancer; I saw my same, young 17-year-old face. After my first chemotherapy round, however, I started to witness the cancer's image. My face grew puffy from the medicine. My hair quickly fell off my head. My morning hair routine changed; instead of straightening my hair, I took it off a stand and pulled it over my head. I suddenly had a seven-day pill container that was so full that the pills spilled over for each day. And, I no longer reported to the track after school for practice; rather, I drove my grandma's old car to City of Hope-a leading cancer treatment center in Duarte, California. As I spent hours hooked up the IV machines that fed me the chemotherapy bags, I pointed my face toward the window, closed my eyes and wished for nothing more than good health.

One day, as I lay there sleepily dreaming about a brighter day, my mom showed me that people had dropped off decorated paper bags used as luminarias at a local Relay For Life event. People I barely knew were walking for 24 hours in honor of all cancer patients and the memories of those who had lost their battle. A wave of comfort washed over my body. I was deeply moved by the courage and selflessness of this event: People walking for life.

One year later, I walked into Edwards Stadium at UC Berkeley, not to run track, but to attend my first Relay For Life. Instead of hurdles lining the lanes, there were luminarias lit up in celebration of survivors and in memory of those who lost their battles with cancer. As the name describes, this event is full of life. It kicks off with a survivor lap, because, at Relay For Life, survivors are our heroes. For the next 24 hours, live bands jam to hit songs, a food tent serves healthy tasty food, movies play and teams of people play touch-football, frisbee and hang out in their tents on the field. And, all the while, people continually walk around the track to represent our never-ending hope to beat cancer. As the sun sets, all the participants gather on one end of the field for the emotional luminaria ceremony. Everyone is invited to share "why they Relay." They share stories of losing their dads, moms, aunts, brothers and loved ones.

Others talk about their personal battles, and we all watch a slideshow remembering the people behind these stories. The candles in all the luminarias are then arranged to spell "hope" in the stands. Together, we walk one lap in silence to commemorate this moment. Then it's back to the track, games and events until morning. In the morning, the sun rises, and, warm coffee in hand, you make your final lap with your fellow teammates. The ending ceremony includes the announcement of the amazing amount of donations that all the teams have fundraised. In 2007, this number exceeded $85,000.

Although I missed running my high school's track during my year of treatment, I report back to a track every year for Relay For Life. My teammates are now the hundreds of Cal students who walk around the track in solidarity for the same cause: To beat this disease. I anxiously await my last Relay For Life at Cal on May 2-3. Themed "Superheroes," it will be an epic event. We have arranged for a large pillow fight, a WII tournament, themed races around the track, food from Jamba Juice, Tomatina, La Farine bakery and many more. There are team prizes for the top fundraisers, such as a deluxe spa package priced at $1,000.

The truth is that everyone has a reason to relay. No one is or will be left untouched by cancer, but we all can hope that, together, we will find a cure as we relay for life.

Make your mark today. Start a team, invite a survivor, volunteer or donate funds to this year's Relay For Life. Don't wait another day. Choose today to be a part of the cure. For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/ucberkeleyca.

Nicole Ferris is a facilitator for the Relay For Life DeCal. Reply to [email protected]

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