Thursday, June 9, 2011

One little pink balloon

Relay For Life has been a part of my life for what seems like forever.  In reality, I've been involved with Relay since I started working for the American Cancer Society, 13 years ago.  For my children though, it's all they've ever known. 

My first year with ACS, I formed a family team.  That same year was our first scare with the C-word, as my Grandma had several suspicious skin cancers removed.  Thankfully, she would not suffer with the disease but through the years it managed to strike several in our family.  On the positive side, I see the inspiration my Aunt Becky was as she faced breast cancer and the impact she made on a local - and even national level - through her volunteer efforts with ACS.  Sadly, my Grandpa wasn't as fortunate, as we lost him to a brave battle against lung cancer, eighteen months after his diagnosis.

Seeing the impact cancer had on my family and the difference Relay could make, my oldest son, Austin, was quick to jump in and take the reigns as Team Captain for our family.  He was just a baby really, only 7 years old, the first year he asked to be in charge.  With his leadership our family team reached new heights and he was recognized as Top Youth Fundraiser several years in a row.  The Relay after he passed, our family pulled together and collected a record $8000+ in his memory. 

As proud as were of that amount, Relay For Life was just never the same.  That event was harder on my family than I could have ever predicted.  Our kids broke down several times throughout the night and we left in an exhausted physical/emotional mess.  Even today, nearly three years later I can't be at an event without being overcome with sadness and emotions remembering my sweet little boy.  Though I will always hold a special place in my heart for Relay, I just can't participate the way I did when Austin was with us.

This past year, I lost an amazing volunteer and friend, Peggy Gregory, to breast cancer.  She was my Reach volunteer, unselfishly helping other women facing breast cancer even as she fought for her own life.  She was also an avid Relay For Life-r, forming a team at her church known as S.O.A.R. (so others acheive recovery).  As I saw Peggy's family and friends sitting in the bleachers last Friday night, my heart literally ached for them.  I remmeber all too well how emotional and difficult it was for us our first Relay without Austin.  (How hard it was for me even in that moment, missing him.)  Immediately, I began praying for them to have peace throughout the event, to feel Peggy's presence and love, and to let her inspiration carry through to others at the Relay.

In a loving tribute, I listened to a beautiful speech about Peggy as they named an award in her memory and noticed the dozens of pink balloons her family held, representing the 49 years she was with us on this earth - as well as one white balloon symbolizing her 50th birthday in Heaven she would have this week.  The family planned to release the balloons at the 50 yard line as they walked the track.  While I missed their release, I noticed the bunches of balloons when they floated above me.  One small group of them struggled to make it to the clouds.

At first I was filled with sadness for her family, worried they would see them and it could somehow bring down this moment for them.  I urged those balloons to move as they neared the electricity lines.  I prayed they wouldn't get stuck.  One by one they passed through the small section between the lines until it came to the last pink balloon.  It wrapped itself around the line and would not let go.  That little pink balloon was determined, as much as I willed it away, to stick around.  Doing so, it kept the "bunch" there with it - floating above.  As quick as the worry fell over me, laughter and hope soon replaced it.

If there was ever a more determined and inspirational "little pink package" - it was Peggy.  I felt as if that little pink balloon was Peggy's way of telling her family, "I'm here!  I see you - and I'm staying all night!"  Goosebumps filled my arms and my heart swelled with memories of her.  And to make the moment even better, as Noah and I made our way around the track later, we overheard her husband making the very same observation.  I was so happy for them and that they could find comfort in an otherwise difficult evening for their family. 

That little pink balloon has been nagging at me though ever since...pulling on me to do just one more thing.  So, I'm making one last push this fundraising season in Peggy's memory.  Though I haven't had a team since 2009, I still am actively involved (sometimes anonymously and behind the scenes) raising money, helping other teams, and using my influence to bring on new volunteers to various events.  But whatever you do, you never feel like it is enough. 

Working for ACS as long as I have, I know that every dollar counts.  Every donation is one step closer to a cure.  Every little bit makes a difference.  And that's what Peggy (and my sweet Austin) were all about.  They just wanted to help others and to make this world a better place. 

If you haven't had an opportunity to give to your American Cancer Society this year, please take this moment to do so.  Do it in memory of Peggy and her brave in honor of Austin and his many years of volunteering for the cause...or do it for someone you know and love that has been touched by cancer.  Whether it is $5 or $50, every dollar makes a difference!

To donate quickly and easily, visit my online page at:

or mail a check to:  1302 Frederica St, Owensboro, KY 42301 (attn: Heather Blair)


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