Walking the Track

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Two years ago, Robbie said he wanted to spend all night at the high school participating in Relay for life. We agreed and heard what a wonderful, if exhausting time, he had. All I knew was that he walked and raised money for the American Cancer Society, both good things to do.I had no idea what world he was dipping a toe into.According the website’s statistics prior to the start of yesterday, there were 149 teams with over 1200 participants who had already raised over $100,000 before they stepped onto the track. Among them was Team Oreo, dedicated to Robbie. He had mentioned back in March he’d like a team to help him so his best friend Brooke, and Deb, got things rolling. Before too long, 13 people were registered members, including Robbie. With each team’s goal of raising a modest $200 per team, they beat that easily and broke the $1000 mark.Arriving at the Ludlowe High School track field was like stepping into another world. Apparently, the program in town has been growing exponentially by the year with hundreds of thousands of dollars being raised for the ACS. Around 4, the field was already filling with tents, picnic tables, lawn chairs and the like. Everyone took a marked off square and set up however they pleased. We donated our tent and some chairs and chips to the cause while others brought food, drink and games.As a survivor, Robbie received a color-coded lei (yellow for under one year) in addition to a purple Relay shirt and white sash for use in the walk. We caregivers received gray t-shirts and purple sashes, all tastefully color-coordinated. Survivors and caregivers were fed with food donated from local restaurants and businesses as we were serenaded by the Ludlowe Girls’ A capella group Aria. While eating we noticed Dr. Joe McNamara, part of Robbie’s Yale team, on line. He stopped by and it turns out he was to speak during the opening ceremonies. Robbie was delighted to see him and Dr. Joe joked about being on call and both thrilled and saddened to see so many of his patients in attendance.Before things got underway, Deb and I both signed up to participate in a 20-year long Cancer research project and I checked in with Team Denise, the hastily-assembled DTC team in honor of our Selectman Denise Dougiello, whose cancer recurred forcing her to resign recently. I added a photo button of Denise to the many symbols on my shirt.The Opening Ceremonies were long but heart-felt. I was told to bring tissues and I now understand why. We heard from cancer survivors, children of survivors, the horrors of recurrence, the strides made thanks to dollars donated for research, and so on.Finally, with a motorcycle escort ready, the survivors were lined up and took the first lap. Team Oreo scattered around the track to cheer him on as they walked. Caregivers were then given artificial lighted flowers to hold as we joined them for the walk on the second lap. Seeing so many friends and acquaintances was moving but what flooded me with emotion was just the outpouring as thousands of people cheered and applauded each and every person to stroll on the track.We took a third lap with him then he chose to rest at the tent as others from the team took over. He paced himself nicely, doing about 15 laps total through the night, hanging out at the tent the rest of the time, eating, playing games and socializing. Many team members brought their boyfriends so the group swelled and provided much relief as some took a break and others took over.At 9 p.m. everything went dark for the luminaria ceremony White paper bags lined the track and people could buy a bag in honor of someone who is dealing with cancer or succumbed to it. We bought bags for Robbie, Deb’s Dad and my Mom. Hey stood next to four other bags purchased in his honor. In each was a yellow glow stick for the honoree and one for the purchaser. After various remarks and a giant HOPE sign lit up one letter at a time, we cracked the sticks to life and laced them in the bag, donning the other. Then in silence, we did a lap in honor.We visited with friends throughout the field and took laps wandering with them to play catch up. Most hadn’t seen Robbie and were delighted at well he looked and thrilled to hear he has only a few days of treatment left.Around 11, we were hot and tired and ready to call it a night. Dr. Massaro and others were most insistent he not spend the full twelve hours at the event and come home for a good night’s sleep. Kate insisted he stay until she performed during the karaoke event (she signed up as part of a Fire Department-sponsored scavenger hunt). She was singing “Don’t Stop Believing” just for him. We agreed and the wound up home at 11:45.We fully expect him to be physically exhausted today and have planned no obligations sop he can recover. Fortunately, one tent was holding a raffle and he won a Star Wars version of Battleship so we’ll have something to do when he’s ready.A marvelous, miraculous, amazing night and experience.

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