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Sandi runs a 'Relay for Life'

Published:Wednesday | May 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Sandi Taylor, cancer survivor, looks at a selection of cancer awareness ribbons as she prepares for the Jamaica Cancer Society's Relay for Life in June. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

 Sandi Taylor is busy as a bee these days, stirring her 10-member committee into a frenzy as they prepare for the Jamaica Cancer Society's Relay for Life, a major fund-raising event. As chairperson for the survivorship committee, a sub-committee of the Relay for Life, her job is to take care of the cancer survivors who will be attending the annual relays in June. It is a job she takes seriously.

"I am always volunteering. My life's philosophy is, stay focused, stay positive, help somebody else," she said with conviction and pride.

Several sheets of cartridge paper, of varying colours, were scattered on Sandi's dining table as she cut out oversized cancer awareness ribbons, each colour representing a particular type of cancer. Sandi, 46 years old and the mother of two daughters, is herself a cancer survivor in her seventh year. She didn't feel a lump in her right breast back in November 2003, but was alerted that something was wrong when she noticed a breast irregularity. She didn't delay. She went to the doctor, first did a mammogram, then in less than a week she had a biopsy confirming the tumour and went straight to the hospital for the mastectomy.

Centred and practical

"One thing I knew for sure, I knew I was going to fight it. I had two daughters and I wasn't ready to leave them. They were not at the place where they could manage on their own and that was my motivation. I had to fight it," she said.

So centred and practical was Sandi and so determined was she to fight this intrusion, that she ended up as the one consoling the people around her.

"I didn't have any hang up about the mastectomy. I didn't feel any less of a woman," said a very confident Sandi. After the surgery, she joined the cancer survivor support group, Reach for Recovery and by June 2004, she was running her first relay in the Relay for Life.

The Relay for Life, scheduled for June 12 at the Police Officer's Club in St Andrew, is more than a fund-raising event for cancer survivors. It is an occasion where people who have been through a similar traumatic life experience come together as a group, share stories, laugh, cry and, just like any therapeutic group, achieve a corrective emotional experience and a sense of belonging.

I am not alone

"My first experience in the relay was overwhelming. To see so many people like me, to see so many cancer survivors, I felt that I was not alone, I didn't have to go it alone," said Sandi. "I saw people of different ages - babies, children, it was so heart-warming. So I knew I had to take myself out of (the) survivor (role) and do more. I saw people who looked worse than me and were still out there. I knew I had to do more, in terms of sharing my experience with people."

And she is, of course, already doing more as a volunteer.

The Relay for Life, now held in 18 countries, is an overnight event where teams of co-workers, family and friends raise money and take turns walking around the track throughout the night into the next morning. The Relay begins with a Survivor's Victory Lap taken by cancer survivors. There is also a solemn Luminaria Ceremony for survivors and those who have lost the battle with cancer. See related article, Coping with a cancer diagnosis by Wendel Abel.

Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a professional counsellor. Email