By Susan B. Lovell
Mary Ann McAvoy is inviting fellow cancer survivors to literally come walk the walk with her May 17-18 at N. Rockford Middle School. That is the annual 24-hour Relay For Life honoring cancer survivors and raising money for the American Cancer Society. Mary Ann is a warrior who has successfully overcome two bouts of cancer in the past eight years.
According to Mary Ann, “The hardest part is just getting survivors to come to this event. Once they do, everyone experiences overwhelming love and support as they walk beside those who have had to ride the same wave of illness. There is nothing like seeing 350 or more people in their purple shirts (only cancer survivors earn the right to wear purple Relay shirts) walking together knowing we have all been given the privilege of life.”
Like Mary Ann, Rockford cancer survivor Kimberly Gerow wants to see new walkers come join this year’s Relay. And Kimberly understands why other survivors might not want to come out because she didn’t either.
“I had a fear of participating,” Kimberly says, “because I didn’t want to admit I had had cancer. I thought if I hid from it, then I didn’t have it, I wasn’t one of them.” It took Kim Gerow almost ten years in remission before she came forward to join Relay for Life.
Fellow cancer survivor Ginny McGee, too, understands why other survivors hesitate to join the Relay. “I can relate to your feelings,” Ginny says to those who’ve never walked in the Relay. “However, you soon realize the “cancer club” is one you never signed up to join. We all have forced membership, yet we are all unique and it helps so much to know we are not alone, nor are our helpers our ‘co-survivors, ’so to speak.”
Ginny suggests first-timers “Go to the Information Center or find the Survivor Tent and you will be warmly welcomed. We come to celebrate, remember, and fight back together.”
The breakfast, Saturday morning – 10 a.m. – noon, at the track is served only to the purple shirts so it’s a great meeting place for new survivor walkers. Mary Ann, Kim, and Ginny will be there looking for new faces.
While friends and family join the Relay teams from 3 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday, Saturday at noon the track is cleared. That’s when the survivors take their victory lap cheered on by music, shouting, and standing ovations – not to mention a lot of grateful tears.
Here’s how Kim describes her experience: “I took my first walk around the track as a Survivor just last year. That one exhilarating lap around the track with my fellow survivors, family, and friends brought to light the simple fact: You are not alone, the fears of cancer are real but so is the Survival.”
The Friday night at dusk candle lighting is a tribute to those lost to cancer and a special time by itself. Mary Ann describes it this way, “Just thinking about the luminary ceremony and survivor walk gives me goose bumps. These experiences are hard to understand unless you actually participate. Then you are hooked for life.”
So please join us and walk with our survivors or just come down and cheer them on.
Survivors are encouraged to register early at the Rockford Community Cabin May 13th from 2–6 p.m. Your purple shirt and sash will be available at this time. Registration will also be available during the event if you are unable to make the pre-registration time.
The Relay begins at 3 p.m. May 17 and goes through May 18th -3 p.m. @ N. Rockford Middle School.
For more information, please visit www.relayforlife.org.