Really? For Life?

e35c3f3a12928b3effc644692a2cbf58Five years ago, we attended our very first Relay for Life.  Each year since then, Relay for Life has become one of the highlights of our year, as we take time to celebrate as a family and remember what God has done for us.

So it was with the same sense of excitement and anticipation that we headed for this year’s Relay.  Since this wasn’t our first rodeo, we thought we knew what to expect.  I had the kleenex ready and money in my pocket.  It was going to be  a great night.

Our first indication that things would be slightly different came right as we walked in…and noticed that the survivor tent had been moved.  In its place vendors were setting up to sell refreshments.  The survivor tent was, for the first time, actually inside the relay area, quite a hike from the parking lot.  For some survivors, who are still dealing with the after-effects (or current effects) of their treatment, I found this a bit strange.  We registered Matt and picked up his survivor shirt and got the requisite survivor photo:

4-25-14 Matt in the Survivor tent

4-25-14 My survivor

Been there. Done that.  Got another t-shirt.  Reached the 5-year remission mark.  Considered “cured.”  Can I get a woot-woot???

We gathered the family for our traditional caregiver network photo.  I guess I need to pre-set my camera to telephoto when asking a perfect stranger to take a picture of us, so don’t end up with a trash can photobombing our picture.4-19-14 Our family

It’s amazing how much Matt’s caregiver network has grown…literally.  Like several inches.

4-19-14 Matt's caregiver networkThis year, there were no special gifts for the caregivers.  No hats.  No t-shirts. No pins.  No medals.  Our special gift was being with our survivor and in the end, that’s enough of a gift for me.  Though adding to my t-shirt collection would be nice, too.  Especially since my children keep taking mine.

The survivor meal was catered exclusively by LaMadeleine, which was perfectly okay in my book.  Nothing Bundt Cakes had snuck a few of their baby bundlets in next to LaMadeleine’s delicious cookies, and there were no complaints from this girl.  I was happy to take one for the team…and my thighs.

4-25-14 Survivor Tent selfieThankfully this year was not nearly as windy as past years, so we were able to eat without having our chips blown off our plates.  After dinner we cased the joint, checking out the different booths, seeing if our favorites had returned, making our “wish list” of the ones we’d like to revisit, and reconnecting with friends.  As we walked around, we noticed that lots of stalls were empty, lots of vendors were absent, and not many friends were there.  Yet.  Or so we assumed.

As it neared the time for the opening ceremonies to begin, we expected to hear our favorite dj over the loudspeakers.  Nope.  In fact, the ceremonies started, and Crisana and I weren’t even aware.  We rushed to meet Matt and Trey who were saving our spot amongst the spectators.

The honor guard was as impressive as always, and the display of patriotism once again filled my heart with pride and gave me goosebumps.4-25-14 Opening ceremonies

Following the non-introductions of the RFL committee, we were introduced to the title sponsor team.  And then, in the most anti-climactic celebration of all time, all survivors were invited to receive their medals simultaneously and kick off Relay 2014.  On a positive note, I was able to present him with his medal and a celebratory kiss.

The first lap is historically the Survivor’s Lap.  It’s usually a bittersweet, emotional lap where those who have fought – or are fighting – this battle go first.  The rest of us, caregivers, family, friends, and those committed to wiping out cancer honor and celebrate these very special individuals – heroes and miracles, all of them – as they take a personal victory lap.  The second lap is traditionally the Caregiver’s lap, where the caregiver(s) join the survivor to represent the many miles we’ve walked alongside them as they’ve endured their cancer journey.  After the initial laps, the track opens for all relay participants and Relay for Life is officially underway.

This year, the first lap could have been called the “chaos lap”.  Or the “everybody’s in” lap.  It was an open free-for-all with caregivers, survivors, teams, and anyone who wanted to participate joining in.  No special caregiver lap, no grand martial leading the way, no banner parading in front to signify the beginning of Relay.

Last year, the banners from all previous McKinney Relays were hung on the fence.  This year, no banners.

We did, however, bump into an unexpected friend: Trey’s Kindergarten teacher.  He’s changed just a bit.  Her, notsomuch.

4-25-14 Trey with Mrs Stokan

We tried to enjoy walking around visiting the booths, but even after the official start of relay, there was little to see or do.  Many, many stalls still stood vacant, with only a few vendors actively trying to fundraise.  Even those with promising ideas seemed to have difficulty getting much interest from the attendees.

The dj’s effort to keep things fresh and exciting did nothing to generate any energy or enthusiasm in the crowd.

As the sun set, it was time for the luminaria ceremony.  We looked and looked for Matt’s luminaria, but there was none to be found.  And let me tell you, it’s not good symbolism when there is no light shining for your cancer survivor.

On that disappointing note, we headed home.  It had been – by far – our worst Relay experience ever, far below the quality of what we’ve come to expect.  And when it was all said and done we were left scratching our heads and thinking not “RELAY for LIFE!” but “Really?  For Life??”