Remembering and honoring cancer battles lost and won

Two weeks ago, I attended the Relay for Life event at the Carroll County Agriculture Center. It was a time to remember and celebrate those whose lives were sadly cut short by cancer, recognize the efforts of those who have gone through the battle and survived, and support those going through the battle right now.

My youngest daughter participated, representing her school, and she asked me to join them as a cancer survivor. I thought her request was not only reasonable but also an honor, so I decided to join them. After a long day at school studying for a final exam, and then a student banquet where I was recognized with an award, I joined my daughter at the event. Yes, I was exhausted, but it was important to her and was also a great opportunity to show support to all those presents and maybe be a source of hope.


When I got to the event — after the sweet gesture of the American Cancer Society to recognize survivors with a free T-shirt when they check in — I got inside and was moved with the beauty and the emotion involved in the event. Just as you walked in, you could immediately feel the atmosphere — the support, the gratefulness, the sadness of some, the hope of others, the spirit of fight in everyone…it was an amazing feeling just to be there and be part of all that.

I arrived just in time for the luminaries ceremony. It is a beautiful moment when you light a candle and put it inside a bag that you have named in honor of someone you know who have gone or is going through cancer. After all candles are lit, there is a moment of silence, a single lap in honor of all of them, and then a bagpipe player wearing a traditional Scottish kilt plays a very solemn song that is just perfect for the occasion.

When the luminaries take place and you hear the emotional sound of the bagpipes, you turn around and you see how cancer has touched the lives of many, if not all, of us. I close my eyes and I can still picture the tears, the hugs, the holding of hands, the prayers, the faces reflecting the satisfaction of overcoming a hard fight, or the faces reflecting the pain of losing someone. It makes you, as a survivor, to feel so blessed but also to question why you were given a second chance, what your purpose in this life is. When they asked me, right before the beginning of the luminaries, if there was anyone I wanted to honor or celebrate, I didn't think of myself as a survivor. Instead, I thought of a great person that life gave me the opportunity to meet: Seth Budai.

My candle was lit for Seth. My luminary was Seth. The courage and honor that the lighted candle represented was all the presence of Seth. As I named the bag and my daughter lit the candle, all I could think of was the light that Seth was in the lives of all of us who had the blessing of knowing him. I was honoring that; I was honoring how bright Seth's light was, how he illuminated so many lives, the difference he made with his smile, his courage and his perseverance.

Every cancer survivor, cancer patient, and their relatives are worthy of honor and appreciation. All those who have fought the battle but didn't make it nonetheless showed us what real courage and determination is, and how strong the human spirit can be. And the survivors remind us every day that there is a second chance, a chance to be reborn and do better, and make your life memorable.

This Relay for Life event gave me the opportunity, once more, to show appreciation and gratefulness for being given a second chance in my life, but also to hope I can make even a small difference in the lives of others just the way Seth in his short — but fulfilling and magnificent — life did.

Marta Cruz-Alicea writes every other week for the Life & Times section of the Carroll County Times.