Why I’m Doing ‘Relay For Life’ This Year

By Molly Talbert

For three years, I ignored Relay for Life — I never had change to give them when they asked for money, April is a busy time of year to do very much except homework and cancer is scary to think about. Plus, everyone in my family was healthy, so why worry? The big purple cake in Proctor was always a plus, and I made sure to get a piece of it, but other than that, I didn’t think too much about the event.
Then my mom got cancer.

Last September when everyone at Middlebury was starting classes, I was on an airplane to Houston, Texas carrying documents stating that, if my mom were incapacitated, my dad had the legal right to make decisions for her. I sat in the Dallas airport during a layover, skimming a Vanity Fair magazine and trying not to cry, knowing that my mom was in the midst of a five-hour operation to remove tumors from her colon. Although the legal documents were out of sight in my backpack, I felt their presence and wished that I didn’t know about them.

Before boarding my plane to Houston, my dad called: “They finished the operation,” he said and tears began to stream down my face. I sat in a corner, trying to look inconspicuous while everyone politely ignored me as they walked to their gates. “They took out more than they thought they’d have to, but she’ll be okay.”

When I got to the hospital a few hours later, my mom had just woken up.

“It’s not that bad,” she said. Her eyes were foggy from the drugs — she couldn’t feel anything yet. “See?” She lifted up her hands to prove she was mobile then noticed the IVs and drips for the first time, little bruises forming where they went into her skin. “Give me a hug.” So I did, and I sent a prayer up to God even though I don’t believe in Him.

There are a lot of people at this school like my mom. In fact, she used to be one of them: Middlebury class of ’78, geography major, lived in Battell as a first-year, then Hepburn, then Hadley, then the Spanish house. She was on the cross-country team and the nordic ski team, even though she’d never done either of those sports before coming here. She even qualified and ran the Boston Marathon her senior year. Sure, she liked to have a beer at the end of a long day and really good cheese was always her weakness, but she was healthy and still ran everyday. She wasn’t supposed to get cancer.

And then, she did. Apparently genetics overcame health.

Currently, my mom just finished chemotherapy and only has one more operation to go before she is (hopefully) cancer free. Even though her treatment seems to be going well, it is a tightrope walk — each test and scan is like looking over a cliff edge and waiting for a breeze to wreck your balance, sending you to the bottom. This year has been hard for me. Even though my mom is alive, I’ve been having symptoms of grief. When someone you love has cancer, you continue on with your life, but it is as if there is a ringing in your ear all the time, never letting you forget what is actually going on.

That is why I’m doing Relay for Life this year. This whole mess didn’t need to happen — if my grandfather had told his children that polyps were removed from his colon each year, my mom would have gotten a colonoscopy much sooner. We need to work together and be open about cancer — it is a sinister equalizer. Although it is easy to think that only smokers or unhealthy people get it, cancer can happen to anyone and, unfortunately, my mom is proof of that. So, on April 26, I won’t just be walking with my mom in mind — I’ll be selfish and walk for myself, for my dad and sister, for my family, my friends and for my future children.

Every little bit helps, and it is too big a burden to take on alone.

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