We Relay for Cancer’s Silver Linings
I haven’t really discovered the true meaning of cancer survivorship. Yesterday marked my one-year anniversary of finishing treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and in the past year, I tried to live like a normal college student—finishing problem sets ’til late, going out with friends on weekends, eating greasy food. Then, my guilty conscience kicked in: I should be more health-conscious and appreciate life more (Saturday Night Live’s “YOLO” video comes to mind). I should do anything in my power to avoid relapse.
In the past, I dismissed setbacks easily, but during my treatment, it was hard to forget. The glimmer of hope during tough, biweekly chemo appointments was the 48-hour mark when all the drugs finally left my system. I supplanted those 48 hours of worry with sleep and jigsaw puzzles. Piece by piece, I worked towards finishing each puzzle and reaching the 48-hour mark. These puzzles were motivation to get through another day.
As time goes on and I’m more removed from cancer, I appreciate this welcome fragmentation even more. The silver linings were the little victories every week: eating a banana, walking to a neighbor’s house, finishing a puzzle. I approach my history with a light heart thanks to those distractions and small accomplishments every hour. I Relay because I want more people to have that glimmer of hope, those little victories, and that silver lining from finishing treatment. —Alice
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after my sophomore year at Harvard, I considered my life over—my social life, my academic life, my future. I was what I did, and I was doing nothing. I would no longer graduate in the Class of 2012, but awkwardly mid-year, “March 2013,” if I ever made it back to campus. My momentum was derailed, it was going all wrong, and nothing would be able to get me that time back.
I can say this now because I am well—my experience was a blessing in disguise. I came back to school with a new lease on life. Friends became more important than deadlines, and I found a sense of self and purpose that transcended what I “did” at Harvard. The semester after Commencement 2012 was quite possibly my favorite. I wrote my thesis at a comfortable pace, with a summer break mid-thesis that most students never get. I made friends that I never would have made otherwise, and I had the chance to lead the Harvard Band. Without my cancer detour, my path never would have led me to these opportunities.
For me, Relay for Life is a motivational experience that lets me take stock of my life’s journey. I Relay to remind myself and others that life is precious and ripe for the picking. —Elizabeth
I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma right before freshman year of high school. I was in and out of the hospital for nine months enduring chemo treatments, endless poking and prodding, and surgery to remove the tumor.
The surgery left me unable to run, ski, or play impact sports—ever again. At first, my knee functioned better than doctors expected, but over time I developed increasing chronic pain. My knee replacement was starting to collapse.
I despised the idea of more months on crutches, but last spring, I was forced to make a “now-or-never” decision about surgery. It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but I went for it. I missed finals and spent the summer at home, but the surgery was successful and I returned to school arguably healthier than I had been in years.
The surgery motivated me to travel during J-term. I ended up hiking in a Chilean national park. Thanks to my repaired knee, I made it to the end of the hike, where I found the most spectacular vista I have ever seen. It was the middle of summer, but there were snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, and volcanic lakes in every direction, everything so untouched by time that it wouldn’t have seemed odd if a dinosaur had stepped into view. It was a moment that I will always cherish, one that continues to remind me of the positive ways in which cancer has affected my life. I Relay so that every cancer patient can look back on their experience and be thankful. —Valerie
We are Harvard Relay For Life’s Survivorship Chairs. Our silver linings have been different, but Relay for Life united us and grounded our lives as survivors.
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser. The all-night team walkathon honors those affected by cancer and inspires society to fight for an end to this disease. Harvard’s Relay will take place at Gordon Track from 6 p.m. on Friday, April 5, to 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 6. If you wish to participate in the event, make a donation, or learn about our cause, visit www.harvardrelay.org.
Alice W. Zhao ’15, a Crimson business associate, is a statistics concentrator in Adams House. Elizabeth R. Moroney '12-'13 is a social studies graduate student living in Cambridge, Mass. Valerie C. Bradley '14 is a statistics concentrator in Quincy House. They are past and present Harvard Relay For Life Survivorship Chairs.