2005-04-30 Tanya's Relay for Life Speech

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Relay for Life Opening Ceremonies Speech

Good Afternoon!

I am so happy to be here and I want to thank Audrey, Beverly, and the rest of the West Valley Relay committee for inviting me. This Relay was the first I ever experienced -– two years ago I came to this Relay as a survivor, after 8 hard months of treatment for breast cancer. I walked my very first victory lap -– in my purple shirt -- surrounded by others who had fought the same battles as me; and the support, warmth, and friendship I felt was one of the most healing things I’d ever experienced. I am so honored to be back as a speaker.

I have spent the last several weeks trying to figure out what I wanted to say today... The experience of cancer is so multi-dimensional and individual and personal that one could talk for hours about it; but at the same time it is, sadly, much too common, and my experience is probably very similar to what many here have experienced.

In 2002, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. I was 37 years old, and had just gone back to school to finish my degree. I ended up having multiple surgeries, months of chemotherapy, and radiation. In the process, I lost my breast, my hair, my appetite, my sense of taste and smell, my energy and stamina, and any sense of modesty I’d ever had, as my body became the public property of teams of doctors.

But, what I’d really like to tell you about today is what I gained.

My very first doctor (who said those terrifying words) also gave me the 800 number of the American Cancer Society, and I called it that same day. I took advantage of every program that I could: Reach to Recovery.... Look Good... Feel Better... a breast-cancer support group.... and their gift closet.

With their help, and that of my family and my friends, I now feel like I gained so much more than I ever lost: I found a courage I never knew I had… closer, deeper relationships than I thought were possible… more appreciation for life than I’d ever known… and a sense of purpose that I’d never felt before. After my treatments ended, I began to volunteer for the ACS in their West Valley office... then I got “Relay Fever” after my experience at this Relay and helped to start one at my alma mater ASU West.... and – eventually -- I went to work for the organization – what I consider to be one of the best things of my life.

I know how overwhelming and devastating it is to hear those words...”you have cancer” and how isolating it feels. But, if you’ve ever had that feeling that you are all alone, I want you to know that it isn’t true. There can be good within the bad. We survivors are surrounded by people who care, people who love, and people who don’t just sit by, but take action. Just take a look around you. You will see people who are fighting cancer standing next to those who are supporting them and fighting right alongside them.

All of you are an inspiration to me – my fellow survivors, our caregivers, the volunteers who made this event happen, and, most of all, the teams who came together to walk and raise money for the ACS.

The money you have raised is crucial to helping the American Cancer Society fulfill its mission of “Research, Education, Advocacy and Service” for cancer patients and their families.

These dollars will help fund the groundbreaking research that will result in the new drugs that will treat cancer, give cancer patients a better quality of life, and, one day, cure this disease. It will save lives by helping the ACS educate people in how to detect cancer earlier -- and even prevent cancer in the first place, through lifestyle choices. It will provide valuable tools and resources to the families and friends who support those who are battling cancer.

Because of you, there are more survivors today than ever before: almost ten-million in the US alone. A growing group who are saying... “we need not surrender when diagnosed with cancer. We can find the strength to fight, from within and from those who stand beside us. Cancer is not the end... but it can be the beginning... of a new way of life and a new appreciation for life.

Just two months ago, I found out that my cancer has returned – this time in my lungs, which means it is now Stage IV breast cancer. So... I’ve begun the whole process again. I just completed 6½ weeks of radiation, and will begin 6-8 months of chemotherapy in two weeks. Again, I’ll lose my hair and endure whatever other side effects the treatment brings. But, I promise.... I won’t give up if you don’t.

I would like to close now by reading you this poem, which to me, captures PERFECTLY, the spirit of today...

Life is sweet because of the friends we have made

And the things which in common we share;

We want to live on, not because of ourselves,

But because of the ones who would care.

It's living and doing for somebody else

On that all of life's splendor depends,

And the joy of it all, when we count it all up,

Is found in the making of friends.

~ Anonymous

So, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you -- Thank you all for coming here today, thank you for your willingness to fight for those who have cancer and for adding your momentum to this crusade. Thank you for being a part of a community that makes a difference in the lives of survivors and those who love them.

On behalf of myself, the American Cancer Society, and the close to ten million survivors in the United States today, thank you and... Welcome to the 2005 Relay For Life of the West Valley!