On Friday 28th March, 2014, my husband and I approached the large rugby grounds where the 2014 CANSA Relay for Life was to be held.
According to the promotional material, this is a “life-changing overnight event that gives everyone in communities around the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled against cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease.”
“Community–based CANSA Relay For Life events raise much needed funds and awareness to support CANSA’s purpose to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa and improve lives by helping people to stay well and get well, by finding cures and by fighting back.”
Relay for Life, South Africa
Although I had heard of these relays in America, I only realised a few years ago that they had started holding them in South Africa, and particularly in my home town of Port Elizabeth. This was the first opportunity I had to attend—and I was going as the speaker. I don’t know what I expected, but I hadn’t anticipated speaking in a crowded, noisy marquee.
Crowds of people mingled around the grounds. Banners of all sorts stood at intervals across the fields. People were putting up stalls and tents. A large temporary stage had been built from which music blared out.
As we arrived at the huge tent, we found the survivors being registered, then given smart survivor banners to wear in white and purple. We were also handed amazing small tote bags packed with goodies, including promotional material for Strength Renewed, my book of devotions for those in the cancer valley.
Inside the marquee
All around the inside of the marquee were “stations” with different activities including handprints on fabric, hair-spraying, guess the count of easter eggs in a bottle, and others.
The marquee was gaily decorated with multi-coloured balloons. The tables groaned with food and fruit juice. A table near us was surrounded by a bunch of little children. Sadly, I noticed they too were wearing banners, red and yellow, with the words SURVIVOR.
The meeting started nearly half an hour earlier than advertised. That must have been a real first for South Africa, where traditionally most events start late.
Nerves to the fore
I confess I came close to panic. Over and over I reminded myself of the Scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and then silently added, “But are you really sure I can do this Lord?”
I took my brief note summary out, looked at it, and shoved it out of sight. No ways would I be able to follow notes and cope with a portable mike, as well as deal with the people talking and moving around the tent.
We played Pass the Parcel and then it was my turn. Oh help!
Candles in the Dark
My talk was titled Candles in the Dark, and actually it worked out just fine. The crowd quietened down as soon as I started to talk and they were very responsive. (Thank You Lord!)
I started with an anecdote of a time when Rob and I took our three young kids to the famous Cango Caves.When we were in the bowels of the earth, the guide switched off the light, plunging us into a deep suffocating darkness. As I hung onto the hand of our youngest, my daughter suddenly gave a stage whisper to him. “Don’t be afraid, David. The man has his finger on the light switch.”
Ironically, although I had a beautifully decorated candle with me, I was unable to light it as the table was in the entrance way and there was a typical P.E. breeze waiting to blow out my candle!
We then all filed outside for the procession which took place on the athletics track around the rugby field.
First came the Scottish Pipe Band. How I love the sound of pipes in the open air. My Scottish heritages rose up in pride. Yet this was the first time I had marched behind a band of kilties and how I loved it.
After the band the first group was the small band of little children with their survivor sashes. Then came the adult survivors. I was in the first row, but there must have been hundreds and hundreds of survivors following behind.
Behind the survivors came the caregivers, and last but not least, a large number of teams representing many of the high schools in the area. They would continue to walk in relays around the track for the next 12 hours.
All around the track on both sides, stood the luminary candles, each one representing someone who had passed on from cancer or who had survived.
Those who survived – and those who didn’t
It was an awesome sight, but more than a little sobering to see the vast numbers of both survivors and luminary candles. Especially sobering to realise this represented only a small number of those actually affected by cancer. After all, I was in my 17th post-diagnosis year, and yet this was my first Relay for Life.
It brought a huge lump to my throat at the sight of the two luminaries with their small candles burning inside, which we had created in honour of my brother- and sister-in-law who passed away in P.E. in 2011.
We bought our supper from a couple of the stalls around the track and then headed for home. It was a truly inspiring evening and, God willing, we’ll be back again next year.
The next day it was reported on Facebook that the function had raised R115,000 which will go towards raising cancer awareness, looking for cures, helping people fight back, and improving quality life of those affected by this disease.
I urge you, if you have been touched by cancer in some way, find out about the nearest Relay for Life next year and determine to give it your support. You will be uplifted and encouraged as you see the tremendous camraderie that exists. And don’t forget! No matter how dark your life seems to be right now, Someone has His finger on the light switch!
And that Someone is Jesus.