Light Up the Night

A rewrite of a previous blog  for a speech at Relay for Life in Highlands NC…

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When I had cancer I never dreamed that one day I would inspire others.  It just never entered my mind.  In fact, I am still uncomfortable with standing up and speaking, yet I feel my journey can help others with theirs.  I am a member of North Georgia Women Surviving Cancer Support Group.  As survivors we meet once a month to fellowship and share our stories.  Each of us is on a different section of the same path.  Some, like me are cancer free, while others are entering hospice.  We run the gamut of possible treatment options, side effects, and health tips for surviving.  The group is very diverse in both age and make up which is a poignant picture of the fact that cancer is indiscriminate in its selection of victims.   Because of this group, I probably have more than the average number of friends with cancer.

I checked my Facebook newsfeed one day recently and found that the first five posts were some of my cancer friends.  One, just starting treatment was getting ready to lose her hair.  Another was beginning chemo treatments for the second time.  Having cancer return is hard enough, handling it when you are pregnant adds a whole new dimension.  How do you sit while they put in a port without anesthesia?  Sorry, but a local just doesn’t cut it…but in Cancerland you do what you have to do through the tears.  Another update is from someone who has been in treatment for over a year and still has a long while to go.  She is a queen of laughter.  Years of treatment cannot be fun in any way, but laughter is a way to cope and not let it get to you.  One more newbie found out after her surgery that only radiation will be necessary for her…as if that is a prize.  Seeing “only” surgery and radiation as if it is nothing tells you a bit about the fears of this place.  It may not be chemo, but it is not a walk in the park.  There is a language in Cancerland and if you don’t know it when you enter, you will be immersed quite quickly. The fifth status was from a woman who is almost finished with treatment…the day you live for when you are battling cancer.

All of these statuses came from women. All have different types of cancer. All face different treatment regimens.  All are strong despite the weaknesses cancer brings with it.  All are trusting in God to walk beside them every step of the way, because trusting in what you cannot see is a big part of Cancerland.  All of them are beautiful no matter how much hair they have or how many scars they bear.  All of them are inspiring.  All of them testify to God’s grace in trials.

Our support group has lost a few members.  It was inevitable.   It is part of the landscape in Cancerland.  Those women were fighters who gracefully, and with much dignity held their heads high until the end.  They were amazingly strong in spirit as the disease ravaged their bodies.  They were resolved to love and live fully to the end.  They spoke with weak voices, but strong words, as they said their goodbyes to those of us who remain.  I wish you could have seen their courage.  It was inspiring.  That courage is what we celebrate here, even as we cry.  That ability to face down a foe as monstrous as cancer and go on with peace can only be accomplished with the grace of God.

I miss my friends and everyone here knows what that feels like, because on this night we remember our dear ones.  We remember our connection to them and how they lit up our lives…like candles.  However, we not only remember how they touched us, but how we touched them.  Relationship is a two-way street.  If our loved ones could speak tonight they would tell stories of their caregivers, family members, and friends.  Stories of you.  They would share humor and tears when they remembered how you loved them well.  They would celebrate your heart for them, because in Cancerland, knowing you have someone who loves you in your corner means everything.  Their lives were made up of moments with you…loving them, being with them, walking with them through the good and the bad.

They loved you… and you made their lives.  Do not forget that.  Hold tight to those words on the days when sorrow comes calling. Know that the love and care you shared does not die, it multiplies for having known one another.

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As we walk the luminary lap we remember…not only the pain, but also the fun, the laughter, and the personalities of those we long to touch again.  Lighting a candle is our way of honoring the lives of those we love so much as well as honoring our connection to them.  Putting the candles side by side lights up the night with hope, and remembrance that they loved you…and you made their lives.

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