Last night was full of more hope than I could ever ask from, last night was Relay for Life 2012 at Marquette University, and last night was exactly where I needed to be. I woke up from my midday nap (in preparation for an all nighter) to that dreaded voicemail that I have gotten too many times this year. A classmate and friend, Arie Fitzhugh, had passed away after his battle against cancer. Another friend, another life, another phone call, more tears, and a heart more broken than I know how to handle. Once again I felt as if I could not breathe, I got off the phone with my friend from home and I just stared at my phone. Who do I call? What do I do? I have to be ready for Relay in 2 hours and now this. Confusion is the understatement of the year. I called my mom though and like she always does, she calmed me down and put it all into perspective. Cancer sucks, it is this horrible and unbearable disease that no one should ever go through. Arie was 19 years old and he shouldn't have had to be fighting so hard for his life, he was finally free from all of it. Finally in a place where pain and cancer doesn't exist, and THAT is what I need to be focusing on.
Relay could not have come at a better time, being surrounded with hope and people that were all together for the exact same reason is exactly where I needed to be and I was with the people that have helped me through so much already. I listened to the survivor stories and stood with tears of joy in my eyes as the numerous survivors walked the first lap of the night. They are what I need to focus on, they are the hope of the future. Despite all the happiness and joy that moments of Relay brought me, there were those moments when the sadness was too much for me. For anyone who has not participated in Relay, one of the major events of the night is the Luminaria ceremony. The track is lined with candles adorned with the names of those we have lost or those that are still fighting. All the lights are turned off and everyone takes a silent lap around the track as a slideshow shows the names and pictures of those we have lost to this disease.
It was a beautiful ceremony, but one that I would not have been able to participate in alone. Hand in hand with my sister, my friends, and my team I was able to walk despite the tears, despite the heartbreak, simply because I have the greatest support system in the world. My sister held me up when all I wanted to do was collapse. She kept me moving and she pushed me forward, much like she has been doing all year and for my whole life. Kaitie is my glimpse of hope this weekend, I know with her by my side I will get through this, I can handle this. Her living a block and a half a way from me has been the biggest blessing in the world this year.
A special thanks to my three dedicated and loyal boys on my team who stayed the entire night even though it was long and it was the last weekend before finals. You are all amazing. And to Maggie O'Brien and Nicole Roman, two of the best friends a girl can ask for. I am so honored to have gotten to walk side by side with them all night, in celebration of Maggie's mom and in memory of Nicole's lost loved ones. Two of the most incredible and caring girls I know, they continued to walk with me up until the very end, when most of the Relay participants had grown tired. Thank you both for holding my hand, for wiping my tears, and for providing constant support and comic relief when I needed it.
This weekend was hard, it was sad, and it marked another loss that I can't even comprehend at this moment. But it was inspiring, it was hopeful, and it helps me believe that there is something good coming out of all this loss. Marquette Relay for Life raised more than $47,000. $47,000 that will go to fighting this disease so that one day no one has to hear the words "you have cancer" anymore. I know we are making a difference somehow and I wish more than anything that that difference would have been made before Anna and Arie passed away, but their legacy and their memory lives on in all those that loved them and the inspiration they left behind.