It’s Christmas time: a special time of the year when we remember those who have lost battles to cancer, celebrate the lives of our survivors, and fundraise for cancer research.
…okay. I can hear you through the computer screen as you let out a big, clear, “uh, No. Can you please go make some cookies and stop ruining Christmas? Thanks.” And you know, that’s a totally legitimate response. For many, this time of the year is happiness on steroids and cancer talk is anything but jolly… or is it?
This year’s Nome Relay for Life moved from summer to winter. The theme? “Cancer Doesn’t Take a Holiday.”
Relay for Life is the largest non-profit fundraising activity in the world. Through the American Cancer Society, each year more than 4 million people in over 20 countries raise funds and awareness for cancer research.
It is mainly volunteer-driven.
Nome is such a small town that anyone who volunteers to help with events is usually already volunteering for ten other things. My case was no different. I wasn’t on a committee but I did what I could. A few days before the Relay I even brought some committee members to the KNOM Morning Show to advertise Relay for Life. (Simon happens to be a professional model and brought a designer friend of his for a fashion show in Nome!)
People think “cancer” and the first thing that comes to mind is doom and gloom. Relay nights are nothing like that. Our slogan says it all: Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back. The last being the most important to me.
Relay nights typically last all night. Ours went 6pm-6am, which is hard to do when you normally go to bed at 10pm and get up at 5am. We had everything from a Zumbathon, to a fashion show, to a performance by the King Island singers & dancers.
What’s most fascinating to me about Relay is just how unique each event really is. An event here is not like one in Miami or London. Because this is volunteer-driven, volunteers make the event be whatever they want it to be. I mean, native drum and dance at a cancer fundraiser? Where else in the world are you going to get that?
There were crazy moments. Fun moments. Somber moments. For the luminaria ceremony we took a minute of silence to remember those we’ve lost to cancer. My mother was among them. We filled the gym bleachers with decorated bags representing all the people we’ve lost, each lit with a candle inside.
As I walked past the rows of bags I was surprised by how many names I recognized. The last names of friends, of neighbors. Of people I know, or have at least heard of. Names mean a lot in Alaskan native culture. Last names, first names, nick names; they connect generations of families in past, present, and future. This is a small town. One loss from one family is palpable. Now, imagine rows and rows of losses.
Walking past the bleachers at Relay for Life, I was reminded how even I, an outsider, was connected to all these families who have been around since forever. We’ve all lost someone during the holidays. We may be different people from different backgrounds but our desires are similar, our basic needs the same. On Relay night we were all united by our collective grief, yes, but most importantly, we were all united by hope, and our desire for change.