I’ve asked several people to write a column in The Chickasaw Journal about why they participate in Relay for Life and have had great response. I thought it was only fair to explain why I Relay.
I’ve been aware of and involved with Relay for Life in various capacities for several years. When I first started working at the paper, typing copy part-time, Miss Jean Dendy was already a champion of the cause. We all got a crash course in what the program is about and why it is held. I’ve covered the event from a reporter/photographer’s viewpoint many times.
When I worked at the Monitor-Herald in Calhoun City, they were trying to organize their first Relay. I am proud to say that my nephews and son spent a whole day of Spring Break hanging up posters around Calhoun County and encouraging people to join in.
Then it got personal
In the spring of 2004, my mother made an announcement.
We were sitting at her kitchen table and she said, “I’m going to grow my hair out and donate it to one of those places that makes wigs for cancer patients. I just know that there is someone out there who needs some gray, little old lady hair.”
I’ve learned over the years that when she throws a curveball out of the blue, it’s best just to field it and see what happens next.
“And you should do it, too.”
Mama has had a hate-hate relationship with her hair since birth. It’s baby-fine and straight as a stick. She has had it rolled, set, pinned, permed, cut, colored, styled, fried, died and laid-to-the-side and it has never “done right” to suit her.
I, on the other hand, have an abundance of hair. I seem to have gotten more than my share of the hair genes from the Langford, Harrison, Hopson and Yawn families. It takes all my effort just to hold it down to a minimum of bigness.
I never believed she would actually go through with it, but I agreed to go along with her. I figured she’d make about three months at best before she got tired of fooling with it and gave up.
She didn’t complete her goal of donating her hair, but not for the reason I predicted.
Late that summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
By Christmas, she was bald.
No fall allowed
I’ve always known my mother was one of the strongest women alive, but she proved it to me again. After her lumpectomy, we spent a lot of time at the Cancer Center in Tupelo. I knew she was terrified of the drugs they were pumping into her body, but she didn’t let it show on the outside. As she sat in her chair taking chemotherapy, she went through her address book, instructing me about sending out her Christmas cards.
When her hair started falling out in clumps, she had my brother shave her head. She had already gone shopping for hats. The day he shaved her head was deeply traumatic for me. Brother was calm and in control. He is his mother’s child and shares a strength she passed to him that never fails to amaze me.
The most vivid memory I will ever have of my mother is of a beautiful woman in a red Santa Claus hat with white trim, moving slowly and carefully around the house, putting out decorations and trimming the tree with her grandchildren, and singing, “I’ll be bald for Christmas. You can count on me.”
Spring was hard on her. She had finished her treatments, but was not up to speed physically. She couldn’t get out and do the things she wanted to in her yard and it hurt her feelings. Her mind said, “Go,” but her body said “Not yet.” It takes time to recuperate and adjust. We all learned that lesson together.
Over the past four years, she has gained back her physical strength and has also found emotional and spiritual support from several sources.
She joined the New Century Club Breast Cancer support group and has made new friends and fostered lasting relationships. She rejoined the church choir and is an official handbell ringing “Ding-a-Ling.” She attended her first Relay for Life event last May. I had the honor of walking the track with her. She is currently whipping our church into shape to participate in Relay for Life. She spreads enthusiasm for life everywhere she goes.
Hope has a face
Relay for Life was begun by Dr. Gordy Klatt to raise money for his local American Cancer Society office and to show support for all of his patients who had cancer.
Relay continued as a means to raise money for cancer research nationwide and to provide information, education and auxiliary services to those facing the battle.
It is a special event that draws people from every race, religion, gender, economic background and walk of life to join together to fight a monster. Cancer doesn’t care who you are or where you come from. It doesn’t care who loves you or who you will leave behind. It just wants to kill you.
Relay for Life doesn’t care about those things either. It just wants to love you and help you.
Relay has grown into a celebration of life and hope for a cure for cancer.
I celebrate Mama’s life every day and I know that hope has a face.
It went to the grocery store with me last Saturday and sang in the choir Sunday morning.
And it’s beautiful.
Lisa Voyles can be contacted at 456-3771 or by email at email@example.com. Chickasaw County Relay for Life will be held Friday, May 15, 2009 in Joe Brigance Park in Houston beginning at 6 p.m.
Lisa Voyles/Chickasaw Journal