My name is Marian O'Leary and for me "why I relay?" is quite an easy question to answer.
I Relay because for the first Relay for Life, Wexford when my dear friend asked if Bride Street Folk Group (of which I am a member) would sing for the Candle of Hope we were delighted to be able to take part.
Obviously, not knowing anything about it at the time, Gay (Chairperson and Wonder Woman Extraordinaire) gave me some insight about how she saw the Ceremony. That was it, I was hooked!
That first year we practiced our songs and came up with some that we thought would suit the mood and the ambiance of the evening. Saturday evening we took to the stage and the Ceremony for the Candle of Hope began, it seriously surpassed all my expectations. The day was already a great success and there were so many people in the field, to look out and see these wonderful people walking the track in memory of their loved ones lost to Cancer, was simply overwhelming.
However, more than that, there was a real sense of belonging. Everyone in that field felt a connection, with the person beside them who may be grieving, with the person across who may be suffering, with the person in the stalls supporting, but above all there was a true connection to those who were not visible at all, all those whom watched over us that evening and I have no doubt in my mind that the spirit of loved ones who had passed and of those unable to be there was felt strongly by all.
The sense of love and heartbreak enfolded as one to allow the emotional roller coaster glide gently over each one of us. It was something very special, a feeling very raw which rocked to the core, but somehow made you feel both emotional and exhilarated all at the same time.
The following year I became a member of the team WLOS & Friends, as I wanted to experience it not only for a few hours but for every minute of this wonderful event.
Geared up with a suitcase, yes, I kid you not, well there were fun laps that encouraged people to dress up for goodness sake and anyone who knows me will know that is a challenge I will always rise to! Water, food, warm clothes, walking shoes, crisps, sweets and whatever else I felt was needed, only leaving out the sink, what can I say, I am a Scout – Bi Ullamh!
2pm Saturday – The opening ceremony, I was unprepared. A veil of purple gathered at the start line, faces of all ages, faces of both genders, faces who had overcome Cancer, faces who were in treatment, faces of happiness, faces worn from the journey, faces happy to be there, faces that became etched forever in my heart. Warriors, Relay Warriors, each and every one of them. The surge of pride rising in my chest was unfathomable, I barely knew most of them, some not at all, but there was a connection. A source of energy rose in me and I willed each one of these beautiful people to be blessed with peace and happiness. These Purple Warriors were relying on me to do my part for them and for all others, to Celebrate, to Remember and to Fight back.
Tears flowed down my cheeks unknown to me, I felt a connection never before felt with a field full of strangers and that was only the start. Onwards for the next 24 hours, there would be many moments to treasure on this fantastic journey. Laps walked, burgers eaten, songs sung, chats had with different walking partners on the Relay walking track, shouting to the gang in the tent to relieve me and take over, sore feet, tired bones, hair done – yes I really did by a hairdresser on site, bingo, tea in the tent with late night revellers, films in the open air wrapped in blankets, we had it all.
4am – no sleep, just could not, I was on a natural high no matter how tired I was. I took to the walking track to lap, in silence, in peace, candle bags still burning from earlier, praying for each and every one, remembering them and their loved ones, small groups still gathered, the distant sound of chatter from tents, the other lone walkers taking time now to complete laps, walking till the sunrise.
Then I passed four young fella’s sitting behind a candle bag, a family member perhaps, but the candle shone for one who was obviously deeply loved. I felt possibly a recent death, they just sat together, friends I assumed supporting one of them. When I next lapped them one was visibly upset and crying and I too cried, as his friends surrounded him and hugged him close and told him it would be ok, they were there.
It took everything for me not to approach them, but they did not need me, they had each other and as I kept walking past I thought whilst heart breaking to watch that small group that night, their support and friendship is completely what Relay for Life is all about.
Allowing this to happen. Giving a space to people to be emotional. Supporting each other through the journey. A journey no one knows who will travel, or how it will be travelled. But each step taken on the walking track is a step for all those who have lost their lives to this dreadful disease, it is a step taken in support of those suffering currently, but most of all it brings hope, a hope for the future that we will all keep fighting for research and a cure to be found. It is a celebration for every life that has felt the cruel, harsh reality that is Cancer.
The sun rises and with it is a clear understanding that we will rise to see this new day with hope, passion and fervour to complete the next few hours.
A few hours in this field, but a lifetime beyond the grass boundaries as Celebrating, Remembering and Fighting Back does not stop once Relay finishes at 2pm.
Since my participation in Relay statistics have increased, my own family have become part of those numbers affected by Cancer, my brother and his wife have and are now part of the Relay Purple Warriors, we are happy to celebrate with them and will continue the fight. Current statistics state that One in Two are affected with Cancer, so figuratively speaking that means theoretically that possibly you the reader or me the writer could be one of those statistics, so for that reason alone it is enough to become involved in this fight for a better world for everyone and to help beat Cancer, together.
To sum up from quite a lengthy passage, if you are reading this and have not had the true pleasure and experience of Relay for Life let me recommend that this year, even if for one hour come to visit. You will not regret it and you will find it difficult to leave. You will feel a sense of serene, particularly if you visit for the Candle of Hope – it is special beyond words. It is like a candle in the darkness lit for the first time and the light radiates gently, glowing softly, growing stronger until it can light an area beyond which the visible eye can see.
Watch the light, feel its power and embrace the love that comes from everything that is part of Relay for Life. It is a moment in time that no matter where you are in the world, you will always be able to recall how you felt.
Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.
Memories from Marian O’ Leary, Relay Warrior.