Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Relay Recap Part II
It really comes down to the people that surround you. While that is true for most any situation, at a Relay event the beauty is indeed in the people. I’d like to introduce you to the people whose stories or presence touched me.

I first saw Joe as I was entering the stadium. He was wearing a shirt that was a tribute to someone who had recently passed away. During the lunch break, he sat down next to us and we started to joke and laugh. It was one of those natural conversations where it seemed like we were old friends. Someone asked what brought him here or what team he was with and he said that he and his family were here because his son passed away two months ago. While we continued to talk to him and get to know him better throughout the event, I was most impressed by his determination and commitment to both his son and the event. Not only was he on the track the majority of the day, but he walked all night as well. He must have walked well over 40 miles. Every time I talked to him, I grew to love his son, Josh, more and more. Josh was only 13 years old. He was diagnosed with bone cancer last October and he passed away in March. Most children would be lucky if they were loved half as much by their fathers.

During the opening ceremonies I found myself walking next to a dad pushing his young daughter in a stroller. Her name was Shelby and she was six years old. She had the most beautiful big brown eyes and golden brown hair pulled back in a long ponytail. I talked to her father at length in our booth while I made Shelby a purple bracelet – her favorite color. She has only been out of the hospital a couple of months after having brain surgery to remove a benign brain tumor that required the removal of 25% of her cerebellum. She has some motor skill issues that require rehab right now. They were such a sweet family, but I was most taken by the gentleness in which he spoke to her. He didn’t treat her like a sick child and he didn’t baby her. He treated her with the same kindness and love as his other children. They were a beautiful family with beautiful smiles.

Another little girl came into our booth to make a bracelet. She looked about three years old. Her hair was just growing back. She had the sweetest dimples and smile, but her eyes looked wise beyond their years. I didn’t hear her story, but I didn’t need to. I saw enough to know that I should hug her and show her love and keep her in my prayers.

During the luminaria ceremony that evening, the lights were dimmed and paper luminaries lined the track. Each of the luminaries was decorated in memory or in honor of someone. All the participants were invited to walk as a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” led the way. As I walked the track it was shocking, sad, touching, moving, and very emotional to see that my co-workers and family members had several bags made in my honor. It was one of those moments that made me realize that the last ten months were indeed reality, and that yes, I too am living with cancer. I walked several laps in the dark with tears streaming down my face. Sad tears and happy tears. It was a cathartic experience.

I could list so many more stories of people who touched me this weekend, but I fear that it would depress someone or scare someone away from a Relay event. That wasn’t the feeling at all. This was a celebration of life in every way. This was an event that spread hope and built community among people with similar experiences. This was 24 hours I won’t soon forget.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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