As June begins, people may start making plans for Father's Day - it's June 20 this year. And as our series of stories and columns on Relay For Life comes to a close, my thoughts are drawn to Father's Day as well.
I've written a lot about my father, Al Sweet, but he's only one of the fathers that my family remembers each year at Relay. Of the five names we place on our Relay For Life t-shirts - all loved ones we've lost to cancer - four of the five are fathers. James Hlad, my aunt Jane's husband, had a son and daughter. Art Harris III, my grandpa's son and my mom's stepbrother, left behind three daughters. And Warren Belanger, the newest name added to our list, was the husband of my cousin, Carol, and father of two daughters. Including me and my three siblings, that's 10 people who will see Father's Day come and go without our fathers to celebrate with, and that's just from one small Relay team. (The fifth name on our shirts is my aunt, Marilyn Sweet, who was my uncle Mike's wife and the mother of my cousin, Margaret Gulotta.)
Everyone who's lost someone to cancer has that one date on the calendar that's especially hard because of the absence of their loved one. For some it's Father's Day or Mother's Day. Maybe it's a birthday, or the date of their death. Christmas is always hard for me because my dad always got so excited for it each year.
Then there are those once-in-a-lifetime days where you feel that absence again. Graduation. The birth of a child. A wedding. My dad's brothers walked me down the aisle on my wedding day since my dad couldn't be there.
We do what we can to fill those holes, to ease those absences. We save things that belonged to our loved ones - my sisters and I each got a diamond from my dad's wedding ring; my brother got Dad's watch. We keep pictures, letters and notes, though since he died, I haven't had the courage to reread the letter my dad wrote me for my eighth grade graduation - it brought me to tears while he was still alive.
This is why I became involved with Relay - to work for a cure to cancer so that no other fathers miss out on those important events in their children's lives. So we have more than these trinkets and mementos left behind.
These are the people we're fighting for. Our fathers. Our mothers. Our brothers and sisters. Our grandparents, aunts and uncles. Our friends. Maybe even ourselves.
Doctors and researchers, supported by the American Cancer Society, have made numerous advances in the fight against cancer in the 25 years since Relay For Life began. Many people with cancer are living longer or beating the disease all together. The record number of survivors who walked in the Warren Relay a few weeks ago is evidence of that.
It can be hard to remember this when your loved one is not the one who responds to the new miracle treatment.
It's also difficult to remember that when we say we're fighting for a cure for cancer, it's not a single cure we're looking for. There are more than a hundred different types of cancer, and the different types attack the body differently. Different cancers are treated differently - so we need many cures, not just one.
It can be frustrating - with all our modern technology, shouldn't we have a cure by now? But it's not something that will happen overnight. How many people were disfigured or died of smallpox before scientists developed an effective vaccine?
Those of us involved with Relay For Life are not giving up hope - that's one of the central themes of Relay, after all. Until we can celebrate a Father's Day when no fathers are taken from their children because of cancer, we will be walking those laps, mile after mile, doing our part to find a cure.
Wyko is the features editor of the Tribune Chronicle. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.