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Experience at relay offers a new look at life

by: CHRISTIANA CHA, Members of Jenni’s West Linn Relay For Life team take the second lap at the Rosemont Ridge Middle School field June 16. From left to right: William Farnbach, Owen Retzlaff (on the unicycle) and Sambaran Chatterjee. In the background are Elizabeth Farrell and Jenni. The teens’ team name was “The One Team ... To Rule Them All,” and they raised more than $1,000.

Reveling in the joy of being free of school for the summer, my friends and I embarked upon an all-night party, complete with music, games and crazy sleep-deprived conversations. At the same time, we set up a little camp complete with lanterns, traversed innumerable miles, had some solemn moments as we recognized those who are struggling with, or have died of, a devastating disease, and, most importantly, helped strengthen the fight against cancer.

My friends and I, alongside an estimated 136 others, including another West Linn High School team, accomplished these seemingly unrelated tasks in 18 hours as we participated in the American Cancer Society's first Relay for Life in West Linn.

Starting shortly after 6 p.m. June 16, lasting through the night and up until the relay's conclusion around noon the next day, we had at least one person keeping our baton moving around the Rosemont Ridge Middle School track at all times. Some team members ran, some walked and one even rode a unicycle.

In the weeks before the event, we raised funds to help support the relay and the American Cancer Society's continuing efforts to treat and cure cancer. The event's participants raised more than $22,000, providing hope in the search for a cure for this dreadful illness.

Certainly, much of the event itself was about hope.

In supporting this event in the first place, we hoped to help conquer a disease that is currently treatable but incurable. In participating in the relay and creating luminaries, which lined the track from dusk until the end of the event, we provided hope and support for those battling cancer, as well as for those coping with the loss of a loved one.

Through speeches at the event's opening, we also received a message of hope, in a variety of forms, from cancer survivors. All addressed the hope of finding better treatments for the disease, and ultimately a cure. Some also expressed the hope that even when confronted with cancer, one can take away some positive lessons.

As West Linn resident and breast cancer survivor Niki Johnston said, 'I can honestly say that I love deeper, I count my blessings every day. I am truly a better person for going through (cancer).'

Even those who have not combated such significant obstacles, in a sense, gained a bit of this ability to look at life in a new way.

As we circled the track during the glorious sunset, the peaceful stillness of the night and the early morning, and the much-appreciated warmth of the last hours of the relay, those who were awake and fully conscious gained a greater appreciation of their surroundings.

By running or walking during times that we normally would not be awake, much less outside, many of us were able to see the world anew and embrace the tranquility that those moments offered.

This definitely happened to me.

When my friends woke me at 3 a.m. to prepare for my second leg, I was unwilling to leave my warm sleeping bag. But as I regained consciousness, bolted some food and accepted the fact that it was time to run, I began to appreciate the beauty around me.

When it was time for me to begin, it was nearing dawn. The sky was lightening slightly to the east and the birds were awakening with bursts of chatter and song. Otherwise, the area was still quiet, with only those continuing to advance their teams' batons out on the track.

My sleepiness vanished and my fatigue fled as I began to run, the cool air sliding across my face. I took in the sights of the early morning - the still-glowing luminaries; the deep blue of the sky, punctuated with dark gray fluffs of cloud; the trees silhouetted against the slowly lightening firmament; the sleepy campsites, some, like ours, with lanterns still lit and haggard people sitting up, huddled under blankets and sleeping bags.

I was amazed at how quickly the time breezed by. Although not remarkable in its length, this run was a moment that will always stand out for me. It was peaceful in a way that I rarely experience, and certainly provided me with a new perspective: There are always new ways in which to view the world, new things to enjoy and explore.

But this moment will go to waste if it is not applied to the greater picture. It is so essential to ensure that others are able to experience and appreciate such moments, and, in turn, appreciate life.

Through telling of such experiences, we can inspire others to pursue similar moments of peace and renewal. More importantly, through assisting with funding research for curing cancer and helping those battling the disease to cope with various aspects of life with cancer, we can provide countless people with not only hope, but also the chance to continue appreciating the world around us.

Another Relay for Life event will be held Saturday through Sunday at Lake Oswego High School, and will return to West Linn next year. For more information about this event and other ways to support cancer research, visit www.cancer.org.

Jenni Denekas is aYouth Board member and former student columnist for the Tidings. She will be a senior at WLHS next fall.