Fighting cancer with every step

My niece can’t pronounce my name. I won’t tell you all what she calls me, because if anyone else – with the possible exception of her younger brother – called me that, I would … politely request that they never do so again. But when she says it, I and everyone else within earshot just melt a little and smile.

Kids have a way of taking the edges off a situation. Maybe it is because they are so innocent, we know there is no malice – and often not much pre-meditation – in what they say. They call it like they see it, and get their points across better than you or I do.

Sometimes, though, kids can make a situation far more affecting, cutting right to the heart of what is important. No one who watched 4-year-old Amyrah Donaway, of Parkersburg, go by during the Survivors’ Lap at last weekend’s Wood County Relay for Life was able to forget the real reason we were all there, in the rain and then cold. Team Amyrah sported shirts featuring photos of the smiling little girl, who was diagnosed with t-cell lymphoma earlier this year.

Far from having their spirits dampened by the weather, most in attendance took up the celebration of life, love and determination and joined in after the Survivors’ and Caregivers’ laps, inspired by those, like Amyrah, who were still fighting – still living.

At the News and Sentinel’s booth, we had plenty of personal stories to share about our own reasons for participating in the event. One staff member felt as though he needed to run his laps, with a hand-written tribute on the back of his T-shirt. Others quietly recalled family members who had lost the fight many years ago. Some mustered up the strength to put in a lap or two, despite physical ailments that made such effort difficult.

And while we ran or walked, the energy from other sites pulled everyone along the track. One gentleman with a megaphone shouted encouragement to each person carrying a team card – for many hours. It was really nice to hear that “Great job, Number 74! Keep it up!” with each circle.

Church youth groups grabbed their guitars on one side of the pond, while polished musical groups took the stage on the other. A man poked fun at the weather by calling out “Pepperoni rolls! Ice cold! Come and get ’em.” Children wearing lighted headbands played and laughed, while more than a few dogs behaved themselves quite nicely at various tents and campers. The atmosphere was truly a celebration.

I have participated in Relays for Life at other locations, both in West Virginia and New Jersey. I have never been part of one so lively and filled with purpose. The community that forms at such an event is probably a reflection of the Mid-Ohio Valley at large; if one person is struggling, we are all fighting.

Grand Marshal for the parade, Julie Nutter, of Little Hocking, spoke about that old adage that when you’ve reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. But Nutter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, in 2013, said sometimes she wasn’t sure she had the strength even to tie a knot.

“During those times, I encourage you to let someone else tie that knot for you and then you hold on for dear life and don’t let go – keep fighting,” she said.

More than money for the American Cancer Society was raised last weekend. Awareness was raised – both of the need to keep up the fight, but also of the tremendous support and resources available here in our communities.

Even if she has given me a nickname I don’t exactly prefer, when I look at my niece I see a kind-hearted, helpful, concerned, cheerful little girl, and I often find myself wishing more grownups could behave the way she does. When I looked around last weekend, I realized I might not be giving us all enough credit. When it comes down to what counts, maybe we’re on the right track, after all.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com