I am Valerie C. Bradley ’14. Four years ago, I was in the hospital receiving the last chemotherapy dose to “cure” me of the cancer that had attacked my body. In June 2006, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in my left tibia. Expecting to receive a simple diagnosis for my leg pain, my world turned upside down when the doctor used the word “cancer” instead. Although my grandfather passed away from cancer a few years before, this disease remained abstract to me—I hadn’t expected to be affected personally.
For me, cancer has many meanings. Most prominently, it conjures up memories of the most painful year of my life: a year spent growing progressively sicker from chemo treatments that killed cancer cells but that also caused hair loss, excruciating mouth sores, and endless nausea. Cancer means the end of playing sports and the beginning of chronic leg pain that I’m realizing will never go away. Cancer is the reason why some truly amazing people I’ve been privileged to know are no longer alive.
Although cancer terrifies me, it allowed me to meet some of my best friends whose strength, courage, and optimism continually amaze and inspire me. Because of that, I feel lucky. I am lucky to be alive, to have both legs, and to have friends and family supporting me while I was sick and continuing to do so now.
One cancer friend passed away last semester. Her name was Mary, and she had just turned eight. I was Mary’s first hospital roommate after she was given a terminal diagnosis at age three. Mary and her family fought tooth and nail for four years to give her as much time as possible and pack as much living into what little time she had. When she finally passed away, our only consolation was the end to her pain. While at her wake, looking at her tiny white coffin with ladybugs embroidered inside, all I could think was that coffins should not have to be made that small. That’s why I Relay—so that, one day, they won’t have to be.
I am Elizabeth R. Moroney ’12. If my high school self had been told that I’d take time off from college, I wouldn’t have believed it. In spring 2010, I was an energetic, determined Harvard student who wouldn’t let persistent coughing and some fatigue slow her down. By June, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had a ten-centimeter chest mass, over ten different prescriptions including twice-daily injections, a blood clot, and an intravenous tube attached semi-permanently to my arm.
Like many Harvard students, I am simply unsatisfied with downtime. Despite initial resistance, I took a leave of absence this fall. I replaced classes with chemo and radiation appointments, and I worried about blood counts and scan results instead of due dates and grades. I’ve had enough radiation to rival nuclear explosions, and enough steroids to be disqualified from the Olympics (without the muscle mass). I learned to be sated by aromatherapy, good movies, chatting online, or walking around the neighborhood.
I had fabulous doctors and nurses and effective drugs, but my preferred medicine is friendship. My hometown friends enlivened my summer, bringing fun to my house, since it was healthier to avoid crowded public places. Medicine time at the Moroney household was full of jokes and encouragement as I guzzled bitter pills and pricked myself with shots. It became a summer of cultural enlightenment, full of all the books, movies, and restaurants that I should have been exposed to but had never had the time to experience. When school began and friends returned to college, my treasured friends in the Harvard Band stepped in, filling my visits with laughter, dancing, and Boston expeditions. Without these friends, cancer would have enveloped my life. But the medicine of friendship reduced cancer to an unpleasant side effect of a generally enjoyable break from school. That’s why I Relay—to diminish cancer’s power by celebrating the power of friendship.
We are this year’s Harvard Relay For Life Survivorship Chairs. We want to rally survivors and caregivers throughout the Harvard community. We have learned that cancer is ruthless and pervasive but also that it has the power to bring people together. We’ve shared our own stories, but we know that there are more.
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser. The night-long 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 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 22 to 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 23. If you wish to participate in the event, make a donation, or learn more about our cause, visit www.harvardrelay.org.
Elizabeth R. Moroney '12 is a Social Studies concentrator in Leverett House. Valerie C. Bradley '14 lives in Greenough Hall. They are this year’s Harvard Relay For Life Survivorship Chairs.