What a night! It was hot and muggy, exhilarating and emotional. New York Times writer / blogger / survivor Dana Jennings’ inspiring opening remarks whooshed us right into a a survivor’s lap around the track at Brookdale Park at 7:15 last night which for many — myself included — was the most meaningful part of the first Montclair Relay 4 Life evening.
Survivors walked hand-in-hand with loved ones of all ages; a team of young people carried the official Relay banner , while our strong walkers Nanci, Alex, Elaine, Toni, and Donna carried the snap-looking MyBigWalk banner that was designed and painted by Lori Loehbelson.
Toni saw a small girl checking in as a survivor receive a pair of purple wings to affix on her tiny shoulders; Dana spoke about being a “sage warriors,” who “will not let cancer define us.” The survivor walk was led by a cadre of young people including a young man with huge black plugs in each ear and a funky purple bandana on his head, and after the first lap Toni — who is in her sixth cancer-free year — grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the track with her.
As we looped the stadium fellow relayers, supporters, friends and family, stood and clapped. For fifteen minutes. I’m sure Elaine, who has successfully completed treatment for advanced breast cancer and is gearing up for her second big trip to Europe this year, spoke for many when she said the the survivor lap was “very surreal, emotional and moving.”
The night went very fast after the opening ceremonies. Everyone on our team was in great spirits and absolutely diligent about staying on the track for their hour and more. We had three tents, deluxe air mattresses, lanterns, a beautiful white canopy courtesy of Myla’s mom — an artist who lost the battle last July and for whom Myla’s entire family came out to honor — not to mention food galore, beautifully coordinated by Martha.
As darkness fell, the luminarias that marked our path were illuminated, and I was able to find the many candles pledged by HarperCollins folks in memory of c0worker and rock drummer Dave Campbell. My parents, Myla’s mom, Leslie’s husband, and many others were memorialized along the way.
Before I knew it it was time for my midnight lap with Toni, followed by my own solo lap. I say solo lap, but I was never alone. Frank, who’d already walked the 9-10 lap with David, walked with me. Soon David and Ellen were out there with us, too. It was a beautiful night of camraderie, remebrance, and celebration.
I crashed at 4 in the morning, just as Leslie was going out to do her lap. When I woke, Martha and Nanci had returned with coffee, and Alex, Frank, Myla, Lori, and Martha were busy taking down the banner and tents.
In the spirit of the evening, Elaine came to collect her air mattresses at 5:30 but didn’t have the heart to wake me, and so I ‘slept in’ until 6. Thank you, Elaine! Thank you Lori, Nanci, Alex, Leslie, Toni, Myla, Ellen, David, Frank, Martha, and Jenny, too.
The relay raised $110,000 for cancer research. With $13,153 on our ledger by 4 am, MyBigWalk was by far the biggest fund-raiser for this year’s walk (see Baristanet piece). Best of all, the night was everything we’d hoped for, and more.