Relay for Life: What it Means to Me

To understand ‘Why I Relay”, you need to travel back to a cold day in December. 

In 2008 on the morning of December 14th, I woke up in bed next to my then boyfriend. We had slept in until 10am and so far, had spent the morning laughing ignoring our current problems and the outside world, when my cell phone made an abrupt intrusion. The ringing brought all the realities I was avoiding with it. My gut dropped and my heart sank as my dad spoke on the other end.

“Are you home?”

I nod my head, realize my mistake and answer yes.

“I hate to tell you this over the phone but, Nan’s gone. She passed away this morning.”

“Oh,” is the only response I manage. I knew it was coming. The whole family knew. She had lasted 4 months longer than the doctors predicted. We’d been told to prepare. This shouldn’t be a shock but, it is.

Dad reiterates, “I wish I didn’t have to tell you on the phone but, I didn’t want you to find out somewhere else.”

“No, I’m glad you told me. Thanks, Dad.”

“Everyone is there, if you want to come and pay your respects.”

“Yes, I’ll meet you over there. Thanks Dad.”

“I love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, too.”

As I hang up the phone, my boyfriend asks if I’m ok. I shake my head and burst into tears.

LuElla Lena Young, my Nan, was home when she lost her battle with cancer. This is where the family gathers to say goodbye. My sister sits on the porch. She can’t go inside the house. Her last memory of Nan will be the scene when we left the night before. Each of us waving, throwing kisses, shouting repeated goodbyes and “I love you” as my Nan smiles back.

I go in to say my final farewell. Only close family will be there today. We mingle in and out of the house to say goodbye. My Nan requested it be this way. She wants us to remember her life not her death.

There is a moment during the informal funeral where hope glimmers through the sadness. I’m in the kitchen watching my family slowly move about in various states of grieving. My Grandfather has not been without my Grandmother since he was 19 years old. I worry about him the most.

Pop sits alone at the picnic table in the kitchen. A warm lasagna his sister brought sits in front of him. He dishes himself a piece and I catch him smiling as the food hits his plate. He glances up to see me watching him. He doesn’t have to explain himself to me but, he does anyway.   

“Even at the end, she kept checking to make sure I was eating. So, I’m going to eat and keep her happy.”

I smile down at him with glassy eyes. I nod my understanding but, he’s already looking at his plate again. Everyone within earshot echoes agreement in the truth of his words. I’m glad the family is here to take care of him. My Nan’s memory is strong with this group of people. Blood may be what brought us together as a group but, love, the love she created and fostered in each of us, is what makes us family.


This was not the first time a person I love had died of cancer but, it was the first time it pierced my heart with such magnitude. The Relay for Life event is a way to fight back against what a diagnosis does to a family. It is a chance for my family and I to share the love and hope my Nan instilled in us with others.

Relay is a chance to celebrate my Aunt’s triumph over breast cancer and make sure she knows how much her family cares about her.

The Relay for Life event is a feeling of instant connection with everyone you meet. Our ‘whys’ may all be different, but we share a common goal. This event is not only to raise money for a cure, it’s to provide funding and support for those battling cancer. To help caregivers provide care and be there for the people who need it most. To me, the Relay for Life is a way to make sure nobody goes through cancer alone. 

At the start of summer there may be several Relay for Life events that pop up in your area. If you understand the reason people Relay, you’ll soon understand why there are so many. Almost everyone knows someone who was diagnosed. Whether they are a family or friend, a diagnosis affects everyone. Yet, most of us feel alone when confronted with the emotions cancer can cause. Your emotions are your own but, there are others that know what you are going through. That’s why Relays are a wonderful thing. They help you realize no matter who you are, you are not alone.

LuElla Lena Young
May 15th, 1946 – December 14th, 2008

Let me know the reason you Relay in the comments. If you would like to donate to Relay for Life you can do so going HERE and clicking “Donate” in the top left corner. You can search and choose “Relay For Life of Berwick” as the event to donate to but, it’s not necessary. It all goes to the same cause.

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