I have come to believe that life gives us enough reasons to celebrate our miraculous existence, yet we seldom look around us and take notice of this enormous privilege of living and experiencing everything life has to offer us, for better or worse.
On the afternoon of Saturday the 3rd of September to the morning of Sunday the 4th September 2011, when most of us are deeply asleep in the comfort of our homes, I was one among the 1500 people who chose to confront the chilly night and walk the CANSA Corporate Relay for Life.
For those who have not heard of CANSA’s Relay event, this is a one-of-a-kind overnight global event aimed at mobilizing cancer survivors and corporate companies to celebrate life beyond cancer. The event is a wonderful opportunity for companies and communities to support and raise funds for the fight against cancer, paying tribute to the loved ones who passed away from this terrible disease.
I didn’t expect to spend the night relentlessly walking, from sunset to sunrise, inside the Denel Properties Irene Campus, Pretoria, which was the official venue sponsor this year. My involvement with CANSA Relay for Life started with a sponsorship of their marketing efforts, for which I was happy to introduce our over the top web-based registration software, part of Virtually Clear, a fully secured and compliant cloud solution designed to give CANSA the right platform to capture all the information it needed. Our collaboration turned out to be a brilliant move and it didn’t stop here. We are proud to be chosen by CANSA to support their efforts again for at least the next five Relay for Life events.
The proportion of the event is unbelievable: 121 teams aligned for the walk and 66 corporate stands were booked, as many companies agreed to support CANSA’s awareness efforts for the day. Only when one gets involved in the tiniest details of such event, one realizes the amazing effort and support that lies beneath. It would be an injustice to say otherwise and I am thrilled of being among the sponsors and organizations which make this wonderful event happen every year. And most of all, I am thrilled of having actively participated in the walk and making a difference in such a way – something I wouldn’t have thought of doing in the first place!
But there I was, setting up the stand for Virtual Documents, our flagship company, surrounded by my team of colleagues, employees and friends, most of them joined by their partners. We chatted, we laughed, we shed some tears, we embraced; we tightened up our training shoes and we ran up to twelve hours through the night, each one of us taking turns to walk the track. It was silent, beautiful, emotional; the candles were still there, dimly lit, from the Luminaria ceremony.
During this ceremony, candles are placed in bags, which then line the track in memory of those who lost the battle with cancer. It is not uncommon to see the bags adorned with a photo or image of a loved one who passed away, be it family member, friend or even pet.
The candles are there for a reason – to remind us of a continuous journey of hope, fighting, surviving. The Relay is about celebrating surviving, expressing gratitude towards a life of hope, fulfillment, health and showing compassion and care towards those who are not as fortunate. It is not solely about cancer. It is not a remembrance of death, loss and grief. It is the closure we all need to move forward and for each person the experience itself is different.
For myself, it was my sister Ruby who motivated me to complete this cathartic journey (she didn’t say a word, she didn’t have to – I would have done it anyway). Ruby was 45 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In 2006 she was admitted in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, in Australia, where she currently lives, to undergo the chemotherapy. She is now in remission.
With CANSA Relay for Life, one gets to walk with the team alongside a survivor. Although my sister Ruby couldn’t join us on the day, she knew she would be my survivor and that our walk would carry on the message of her journey through and beyond cancer. What started as a walk for Ruby, immortalized by the string of colorful beads each wore around our necks, turned out to be a much deeper experience, where we all came to grips with our lives’ importance.
Apart from the team building effort, an invaluable experience for a company to enjoy, we have each grew as individuals. Above all the fun, live music concert, camping and networking activities, community support and the cause itself, the first beam of light at sunrise brought us the most joy – the purest joy of living another day, the joy of being alive, the joy of being a survivor.
Despite all knocks we encounter in our lives, whether in our work, business or family life, despite all the hardship, resentment, grief, loss and death we sometimes deal with, there is always a sunrise to remind us that life goes on. It reminds us that we have survived and we are still surviving, each day. It shows us that after every sunset, there is a sunrise – a beginning – and we should fully embrace that, irrespective of our current circumstances.
Our walk, from sunset to sunrise, was not a walk against cancer. Our walk was against everything we hold on to from our past, everything we are afraid of, everything that seems out of place in our lives.
My journey took me to a different place and I should probably thank Ruby for that.
Right after she entered in remission, my sister wrote this poem, “My String of Beads”, as a dedication to all the healers who were there for her when she needed the most. Each colorful bead, pearl and crystal we have proudly carried during our walk, as a symbol of Rudy’s journey, represents a doctor, intern, nurse, patient, family member and friend who stood by her, day-by-day, offering all the support, love and care one needs when hearing the awful truth: “you have cancer”.
I want to share this poem with all of you, in the same way my sister Ruby has shared these words with me. I sincerely hope these words will inspire you to look beyond yourself, understand and celebrate your life alongside other enthusiastic survivors. I am looking forward to seeing you at our next CANSA Relay for Life event, where we would hopefully share together your commitment “to face the future, to live and to love life” as much as Ruby does.
Here is the poem – may these words touch your heart and inspire you to live your life to its fullest:
My String of Beads
I carry you with me
Like a string of beautiful beads around my neck
For each of you have given
Your most in your own special way
Using your superior knowledge and skill
So that my path back to health
Would be smoother, easier, happier – achievable
So here’s saying thanks to you my pretty beads
I shall endeavour to remember you one by one
By describing – in brief – what you did for me: –
This is my string of beads…
I will wear my multi-coloured string of beads and show you off the world
Because you made it possible to face the future, to live and to love life,
Despite the circumstances
And if I should need to add another string of beads
I will gladly adorn myself with the gift you give
That is your care, your kindness and your love.
Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital,
23 February 2006