Relay gives glimpse of hope to families affected by cancer

By: Lauren Gibbs, Associate Editor
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Last week I got an e-mail with the subject of “Why I Relay.” It was a Rocklin woman’s reason behind participating in Relay for Life, a 24-hour event where people walk to raise funds to fight cancer. Rocklin resident Jeannie Merrill was diagnosed with ovarian and breast cancers. As I read her e-mail, I remembered her story. I had met her about this time last year, listened to her story and shared it with readers. Her story inspired me then and it still inspires me today. Her e-mail was powerful and real. “I am no stranger to what cancer does to a person and to their family,” she wrote. Her father and grandmother both lost their battles to cancer and she’s currently battling alongside her brother in Missouri who was diagnosed with lymphoma. When I met her last year, she held nothing back — sharing her fears of leaving her children, the others in her family who lost their battles to cancer and her sense of humor she shares with her family. In her e-mail she shared the thoughts running through her head as her doctor told her, “You have cancer.” Her thoughts went to her two girls. “The doctor started talking and I started to thinking. What women would be there when boyfriends broke their hearts and who would be there on their wedding days to fuss and help them get ready for marriage and when babies are born, who would they call for advice? What women could possibly take my place? Then it hit me. No one could ever do it like I would. I would have to live ... for them ... there was no way around it.” As a participant of Relay for Life last year, Merrill said it showed her family what hope looks like. “Relay gave our family a healing element that I could have never done alone. Me reassuring everyone that I would be OK when looking so sick and different wasn’t enough anymore. Relay gave my children hope that their mom would survive,” she wrote. And every year the event brings hope to so many others in communities across the country. When I was in college, one of my roommates’ mom passed away from cancer. About a year previous, my other roommate’s grandmother also passed away from cancer. That year, my three roomates and I participated in Relay for Life in memory of them and everyone else in our lives affected by cancer. I remember the survivor walk and what a powerful moment that was. I also remember my roommate chopping off her long, blond hair and donating it Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to those in need. And walking around the track over and over again. But what I remember the most is the emotional luminary ceremony that night. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the grass as cancer survivors shared their stories, we watched photos of people who passed and held a moment of silence to remember. Relay for Life started 25 years ago when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Washington, ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, according to the Relay for Life website. Now, the relay attracts more than 3.5 million people each year. This year’s Rocklin Relay for Life will be held Sept. 11 and 12 at Granite Oaks Middle School in Rocklin. For more information, go to