Two days after I completed radiation treatments, my Mom took me to my first Relay for Life. This is the largest fundraising event of its kind sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The event I attended was at the University of Central Florida’s track and field.
My Mom (Henrietta Wattman 1928-2006) and my brother, Gary Wattman, invited me to join them for RFL since I was now officially a cancer survivor. We would enjoy a dinner with other survivors and caregivers, and then, walk the track as part of the first lap or survivor’s lap. I had no idea what I was getting into -- I figured it was dinner and a walk. I was clueless.
I was also extremely exhausted. Remember the fatigue I mentioned previously. Even with treatments now over, I was tired. As far as I was concerned, this evening meant I did not have to cook dinner. We did have a wonderful meal and there was plenty of activity inside the UCF facility where the dinner was held. We were given gift bags full of goodies and chance drawings were held -- great prices were handed out to lucky winners. After eating, we were asked to gather our belongings and make our way out to the field. First, we all posed for a group shot-- more than 100 survivors plus caregivers all gathered together for this photograph. I was amazed by the realization that I was not alone when it came to this whole “cancer thing.” I was surrounded by other men, women and children all of whom were survivors. This whole Relay “thing” was quite a surprise!
Afterwards, came the biggest shock or reality check. I was walking the survivor lap. Suddenly, I was making my way around the large track and field -- but I was not alone. On the sidelines --- cheering us on -- teams of people, shouting out words of encourgement. Telling us how great we were. Reminding us to keep on going. Signs held up with words of support - “We love you survivors!” “Don’t ever give up!” And the one that became my favorite: “Cancer Sucks!”
I know someone gently pushed around the track -- one small step after another. But I kept hearing those words of support, the shouts of joy and happiness were everywhere. These people were celebrating! And that’s what hooked me. I had to become a part of Relay for Life.
Just a few days after this experience, I was on the phone with ACS asking about RFL and how I could get involved. The following year, 2002, Gary and I were on the Survivor Committee helping plan the dinner. Not only did it allow me to be a part of this incredible event, I was finally able to support an organization that did make a difference in my life. The American Cancer Society dedicates itself to helping cancer survivors and caregivers in a multitude of ways. By going to its website http://cancer.org or callings its toll free number 1-800-ACS (227) - 2345 you can find help 24 hours a day seven days a week.
Being on the committee gave me an opportunity to feel useful again. I could use my talents and skills to help a cause I supported. Another bonus, I made new friends. When you work a committee, the men and women working with you become a family. I needed this network of friends -- many of whom were survivors themselves. I could talk to others who understood what I was going through. I could relate to them. This was definitely a highlight of my cancer journey.
Suggestion ... If you are a newly diagnosed cancer survivor please seek help through ACS or join a support group through your hospital. You may not realize it now, but you did need this support. (I certainly didn’t know it, but it made a difference.)