Cancer makes me angry.
Cancer has made me angry since that day in 2003 when my parents called me to tell me that my dad had been diagnosed with leukemia.
I was angry at cancer when I drove my parents to the hospital where my dad would be admitted for a month for his first round of chemotherapy.
I was angry when we learned a year later that Dad's cancer had come back and he would need more treatment to get him into remission so he could have a stem cell transplant.
It made me angry when Dad's cancer, more aggressive this time, wouldn't respond to treatment, and the odds his doctors gave us got worse and worse.
Cancer made me angry the day my mom called to tell me that there was nothing more to be done and Dad was being released into hospice care.
I was angry at cancer the next day, as I held my dad's hand as he died.
My anger at cancer didn't stop then. It made me angry that my dad never met my husband or my brother-in-law, and that Dad wasn't there to walk me and my sister down the aisle at our weddings. It makes me angry that because of cancer, my dad didn't get to hold his first grandchildren. It makes me angry that since that day in 2005 when we lost my dad to cancer, we've lost more friends and family to cancer, including two other dads who won't get to walk their daughters down the aisle on their wedding days and who won't get to hold their first grandchildren.
Cancer makes me angry, but I'm not the only one - if the number of people who participate in the numerous Relay For Life events in the Mahoning Valley are any indication, cancer makes a lot of people angry.
Cancer made me feel helpless. Though I tried to help where I could - driving Dad back and forth to treatments, taking walks with him, sitting and watching TV with him, praying that he'd make it through - the truth was, there was nothing I could do to stop the cancer. No one likes to be helpless, and that's what made me angry.
After Dad died, I had all this anger and nothing to do with it, which is what led me to Relay. Though my family had participated in Warren's Relay For Life prior to my dad's illness and death, it wasn't until the 2005 Relay that my mom decided we should try to have a Sweet family member on the track for the full 24 hours. Between my mom and my siblings - including my sister Chrissy who participated as a 24-hour walker - my aunts, uncles and cousins, we achieved Mom's goal with little difficulty.
This got me thinking. If we had enough people to walk for 24 hours, why couldn't we have our own team?
Putting together the Sweet Family and Friends Relay For Life team gave me a purpose and an outlet for my anger and grief in that first year after my dad's death. Finally, I didn't feel so helpless. Though a few thousand dollars raised by a family in northeast Ohio doesn't seem like much when you consider the millions and millions of dollars that go to cancer research each year, those dollars and cents we collect throughout the year do add up. After all, a bunch of families and friends and coworkers and health care providers in northeast Ohio recently managed to pass the $6 million mark in funds raised for cancer research.
Cancer still makes me feel angry and helpless, but Relay For Life has made me realize that I'm not the only one who feels that way. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 3 million people participate in Relay For Life in the U.S. each year, and Relay now takes place in 21 countries around the world. That's a lot of angry people - but we're angry with a purpose. And we won't stop being angry until we've one the fight against cancer.
Cancer may make me feel helpless, but because of the people who participate in Relay For Life, I'm far from hopeless.