What can I do?

When a relative or friend is fighting cancer, we often feel limited in what we can do to help and support them. And our neighbors are a curious blend of relative (we don’t choose them) and friend (we do choose them).

This last weekend, the American Cancer Society’s first Orcas Island Relay for Life gave us the opportunity to help relatives, friends and neighbors in the community of those fighting cancer, as team members “spelled” each other on the Relay track around the high school baseball field. (Click here for story.)

For over 24 hours, more than 100 islanders braved fatigue, soreness, sunburn, windburn and an unexpected pre-dawn shower (See story) to walk and talk, in honor, fun and memoriam, for the cause of those of us facing cancer ourselves or in our greater community near and far.

Community is built by people who connect with each other by sharing a common effort. In the Relay for Life, the special 24-hour community walked together, talked together, played together, slept together, comforted and congratulated each other and got to know each other – sometimes a little better, sometimes with deep insight and empathy, and sometimes in the midst of a fiasco such as the sprinklers going off unexpectedly.

The water may have dampened the grounds on that windy night, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the participants. The teams carried on, in the manner of Audrey Wells, who got soaked and retreated only to her car in the parking lot to dry out.

The enthusiasm of the Key Club kids, and other youngsters, the pride of the survivors, the support of the seniors were major contributors in making this event a smashing success for its first year.

The high school Key Club was there en masse, and were role models for even younger kids such as Terri Nigretto’s son Jack, and 13-yer-old Sorrel Hughes, who “lapped” solid for six hours, leap-frogging and cart-wheeling her way around the track for variety. Think about how many times the Key Club participates and helps in community events – what an education they’re getting, to the benefit of various community causes, with their smiles, laughter, comradeship and work!

Senior citizens and survivors not only talked the talk, but walked the walk, as they made laps around the field, some with the aid of canes, and many on ankles that had been broken and hips that had been replaced.

The luminarias, decorated for cancer victims and survivors, were lit around the Relay course as night fell. But in the face of the rising wind, some sputtered and blew out. Relayer Kathi Ciskowski commented that it seemed symbolic of the battle we wage against cancer – some lights are extinguished, but others last through the night.

As much as events such as the Relay for Life may help those personally waging the battle to overcome cancer, it also fulfills a need for those who want to help through the symbolic “relaying” of efforts and support those whose everyday lives are dramatically changed.

There are other Orcas Islanders engaged in the efforts to end cancer:

• Damien Stark will be swimming the ferry route for the breast cancer cause this Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27. He can be contacted through www.breastcancerswim.com, at 360-298-2232, or at damien@rockisland.com;

• The Island Girls are raising funds as they participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk this September; they can be reached through 08.the3day.org, or call Team Captain Dottie Cornelius at 360-317-5821.

• The Orcas Gals, who will be putting on a male-only Wet-T shirt contest on Aug. 2 at the Lower Tavern, will also partake in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk in September; contact them also at 08.the3day.org,

Help them do what they can in the fight against cancer.