Relay for Life

The cancer society runs a Relay for Life every year but alternates the venue between Dunedin and Invercargill. The idea is that organisations enter teams of people who walk, in relay, for 24 hours and through sponsorship raise money for cancer research. The Diocese usually has a team, and of course I have a bit of a vested interest.   It was Dunedin last year so we set out for Invercargill at about 8:30, stopped for coffee in Mataura, arrived at Rugby Park (proud to be home to the Southland Stags)at about 11.40 and found the Anglican Tent.

The team this year was smaller than last time, and the whole event seemed not as big or as busy as previous years, with fewer teams and smaller. There was continual live music and a range of stalls selling or giving stuff away, and many of the teams dress up, giving the event a sort of carnival atmosphere. I registered and got my purple sash which marks me as a cancer survivor. Then I joined the crowd for the first lap of the track. Only people wearing purple sashes and their supporters, wearing green ones, walk this inaugural circuit. People clapped and cheered us as we made our way around, but really, I feel I haven't done anything extraordinary or praiseworthy. My body began to decompose. Some very clever people chopped and burned out the bad bits. I take some fairly heavy duty medications once every three months and I'm still here, and look like I'm going to stay for the foreseeable future. That's hardly winning the Nobel Prize, now, is it?

I look at how my life has been since I got cancer, and this 8 years seem to have been the most varied and busy and interesting of my entire life. The cancer has taught me my own mortality, a lesson you would have thought I would have learned by age 56, but hadn't. The cancer has been in its own odd way a teacher and a gift. I have no complaints about the life I have been given as a completely free unmerited gift and will accept with gratitude however many more years are going to be gifted to me, however many or few the number of them might be.

I was thinking all this as I walked around the track, looking at the others who were walking with me, as varied a bunch of people as you could ever wish to see. And then I noticed him. A boy of about 12 or so in a wheelchair, unable to move much, his purple sash pulled across his chest. A single tuft of hair grew out of the back of his baseball cap. His father was pushing the chair and his mother and sister walked beside him. The people cheered and clapped as he went past and I noticed his father was in tears. So much disappointment and the long, hard, painful, shared journey with his little boy. It's one thing for me to talk blithely of my disease at the end of a longish life, and quite another for this brave little guy whose little measure of  years has been so compromised and who may not have a whole lot more of them left.

So we walk and people sell apples and badges and collection buckets are passed round. The money raised will go into the support of people like that little family walking beside me round the track. It will go into research that might one day prevent another little boy from having to sit in another chair. The efforts of people in the past have meant that what would have been for me, only a couple of decades back, a certain death sentence, has been commuted into a full and rich and productive life. I am glad I was there to do my tiny part.