Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lighting the Night, and Thinking of “BJ”

Even though I had not fundraised or even planned in advance to walk in Light the Night this year, my schedule freed up late yesterday afternoon, and I decided to go. I ended up running into several friends there: Kristi, Nancy, Chuck, Jenn, and Katie (who spoke as a survivor to the LTN crowd) from Team in Training, and awesome recent cancer survivor and fund-raising champ Faith from last year’s “Faith’s Hope” Light the Night team. I also met Faith’s cute little dog, Henry, for the first time. Like the rest of us, he had a good time walking for a cure. The weather could not have been more perfect for this event, with the nearly full moon shining brightly a day after the Hunters’ Moon, and Jupiter shining in the east like a beacon.

While waiting in line to register, there was a woman behind me wearing a shirt with a photo of a young man and the words that she was walking in memory of “BJ.” I told her I was sorry for her loss, and she told me that she was “BJ’s” mother, and how her son died on March 17 of 2009. He was only 16. Even though I am not a “weepy” person, I could feel my eyes filling with tears at the thought of this mother’s unimaginable loss.

If you know me, and you are familiar with what I do for Team in Training, you know that one of the really big things for me when I do my races for the Purple Team is running and walking in honor and memory of those who have had cancer. In all five of my events, my shirt on race day is covered with names, including four months ago in Seattle and 18 months ago in Nashville. So even though I am not yet signed up for Team in Training, I decided to start my name list for 2011 last night, starting with “BJ.” I told his mother that I would like to write his name on my shirt for my next race, and she seemed touched by this. She wrote his name down for me, and his birth and death dates. He was born at Christmas time in 1992 and died on St. Patrick’s Day in 2009, which should be two very festive times. But I am sure that for “BJ’s” family, these dates will always be tinged with sadness.

Cancer is always horrible. But it is particularly horrific when children are involved. My Nashville teammates Tami and Fred lost their son Blake to leukemia at age 15. My friend Holly nearly lost her daughter a few months old to leukemia. There is the little girl who’s mom talked about at our Seattle Inspiration Dinner – getting cancer twice by the time she was two years old. My teammate Ann lost her son to leukemia at age 19. Then there is the little girl in Nashville with leukemia that I ran into while I was there with the race. I will probably never see her again, but I will never forget her and hope that she is healthy and stays that way. And now, there is Maurice (“BJ”), whom I’ve never met and never will meet. I don’t know anything about this young man. But two things with absolute certainty I do know are that he had life stolen from him decades and decades too soon, and that his family will always have a hole in their lives. I can’t change any of that, but when I do my next race for Team in Training in the fall of 2011, I will remember “BJ” and wear his name on my shirt.

The Light the Night went through Carytown, and it was a beautiful walk. All of the lighted balloons glowing in the dark are so pretty. I saw many other people wearing the team shirts in memory of “BJ”, and of several other teams. It is always moving to me to see the teams, and all of the gold (walking in memory of a loved one) and white (cancer survivor) balloons. It has been eight years for me now since I was so ill, and by the grace of God, I walked last night once again as a strong and lucky survivor. One day, there will be cures for every type of blood cancer – I believe this in my heart. If we continue to be just a little more relentless than cancer is, it will happen.

Here are a few photos from last night.

It's still light, but people are gathering their balloons: red for supporters, gold for remembering those who have passed on from this awful diseases, and white for us very lucky survivors:
From right, Jackie (Hodgkin lymphoma survivor), her daughter Kristi (Hodgkin lymphoma and thyroid cancer survivor, and my friend and teammate from a number of events with Team in Training), Kristi's daughter Rebecca (may she always walk with a red balloon), and Nancy (currently with chronic lyphocatic leukemia, and one of my mentee's from this past Summer TNT season).
From right, my friend Faith (Hodgkin lymphoma survivor), her friend Marla (breast cancer survivor who just walked the 60 mile Komen Three-Day) and her husband, and Faith's and my friend Jenn, TNT alumni from this past winter. Faith and Jenn joined me this past March as cheerleaders at the Shamrock Marathon at Virginia Beach.
The walk starting, and underway through Cary Town. Light the Night!

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