For All The Warriors

This month, I had the incredible honor of delivering the keynote speeches at two Relay for Life events. I’m new to Relay and, honestly, I was blown away. I was blown away by the commitment and passion, and by the awe-inspiring expressions of love.

I just thought I’d share one of my speeches with you. Whether you’re a survivor, a caregiver, or someone who has been touched by cancer in some way, this one is for you. This one is for all the warriors…

I have to admit, I don’t really feel worthy to stand up here and speak. I don’t feel worthy because I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know about cancer, loss or survivorship. In fact, most all of you know significantly more about surviving than I do. So instead I’ll tell you something that all of us know too well: cancer sucks.

But the way I see it each of us have two choices in life. And the choice that we make has the potential to change the course of history, to change the human condition, and to change the course of all of our lives for the better.

Our first choice is to be afraid. To be afraid of losing the fight. To be afraid of losing the future we’d dreamed of. To be afraid of losing a loved one. And to be afraid of losing our own battles.

And although we know that fear stifles us and keeps us from our happiness, so often being afraid feels like our only choice.

But all of us here tonight know that we don’t have to be afraid, and we don’t have to let fear decide our fate. Because all of us here understand that our other choice in life is the choice to gather our strength…and to fight — To fight with everything we have against the disease that has both dimmed and extinguished many of our brightest lights.

And just by being here tonight, I know for certain, that each and every one of you have chosen to fight.

Each and every one of you have chosen to fight for a cure, for remission, for survivorship, and for each of those bright lights that have burned out before their time.

So it is an honor for me to be here tonight among such a brave group of warriors.

And it’s been my bittersweet fortune to come from a long line of warriors. My Grandma Phyllis was a warrior. My grandpa Kevin was a warrior. My great uncle Lou was a warrior. Recently, my great uncle Chuck became a warrior too.

And just like all of you, my dad was also warrior. He was a thinker, a leader, and someone who never stopped fighting for what he believed in. In his final year, my dad shared his story and much of himself on our blog, The Nancarrow Project, where he wrote that “it is far better to good for others than to do good for oneself.”

And that’s exactly what he had spent a lifetime doing.

My dad was passionate about conservation, education and germination. And when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he exemplified determination.

As was typical for my dad, his determination extended beyond himself. On our blog he wrote “…if you’ve got cancer: DON’T FREAKING GIVE UP.”

My dad never gave up. He fought courageously. But cancer did what cancer has done for thousands of years, and my dad passed away after just 11 months of fighting.

And although cancer stole my dad, it also toughened me for the fight ahead. Now, here we are, continuing to fight so that, one day, we will defeat cancer for good.

And not only are we here fighting against this cruel disease. We are also here fighting for something much more precious.

We fight so that children may grow up to “discover their passions and explore them fiercely”. We fight so that fathers may walk their daughters’ down the aisle. We fight so that mothers might become grandmothers. We fight for more time and so that we might live to see all of life’s treasures.

While my dad won’t be there to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, or to bounce his grandbabies on his knee and teach them about bugs and plants and the many uses for coconut oil…and though the sadness we feel in this moment is particularly heavy — it’s important for me to express the other feelings I hold in my heart – feelings of joy, gratitude…and hope.

I feel joy because happiness is what my dad wanted for us. He wanted us to find beauty and wonderment in the world. He wanted us to “treasure the importance of each day and to be understanding of the fleetingness of life.

I feel grateful because I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me about passion and laughter and about unconditional love. As Winnie the Pooh said:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

And tonight, as I look out at each of your faces and each of the flickering flames around us… I AM HOPEFUL. I am hopeful because each of these flames burn bright because of you. Because you are the light.

Now, before I leave you, I want to share with you one more piece of advice from Winnie the Pooh:

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.”