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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ansleigh's Corner

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Second Life, and I was in attendance at the closing ceremonies this morning. During this event, three devastating words and the heart breaking, life altering changes they bring were mention frequently: you have cancer. They spoke of how terrifying they were to hear and how they hoped that, through Relay and the myriad of other efforts to fight cancer around the world, we might one day erase the need for them at all.

I’m blessed to have never had to hear those words, but they have affected me. When I was very young, I was told of my great-grandparents who died from lung cancer, and I was there at the funeral of my favorite aunt who lost her battle with breast cancer. I was much too young to understand what cancer was at the time, but as I grew older and learned more about it, I was filled anew with sadness at the untimely passing of my family members. Perhaps, if there had only been more research, more treatments available, maybe Grammy would still be here today.

Though I still miss my aunt very much, I know that she lived a wonderful long life and was at peace in the end. The person whose cancer story affects me the most and the reason why Relay is so important to me is not a family member, but rather a woman that I barely knew.

As a freshman in college, I was randomly assigned a roommate from my hometown. I didn’t know her, so my family invited hers to dinner before we left for school in order for us to get acquainted. I immediately liked the girl; she was spunky and vivacious and very sweet. Being raised southern, I place a great deal of emphasis on manners, and hers were great, I especially appreciated the way she respected her mother and father: you could tell how much they all loved each other just being around them.

That dinner party went wonderfully, my roommate’s mother was kind and amiable- she was a teacher at a local high school and had tons of charisma- everyone in my family liked her immediately. She wore a hat the entire time she was at my house, which at the time I thought a little bit quirky. I mentioned this later to my parents and was in turn shocked as they gravely shared with me that my new friend’s mother had very advanced cancer and that she would be starting very aggressive treatment for it as soon as we were settled in school.

I couldn’t believe it. You would have never known from speaking to this woman that she was sick. She never let on if she was in any kind of discomfort and she was a joy to have around. In the weeks that followed, as my roommate and I moved away and started our classes, the memory of what my parents told me faded and stayed hidden in the back of my mind.

My roommate never spoke about her mother’s condition and she never seemed sad or worried. She is in fact a great deal like her mother; never letting on the pain she was in. As the fall progressed, I began to notice a change in her, however. I would come home and see that her eyes were red and swollen, she spent a great deal of time on the phone with her parents, and then she began making frequent trips home.

One September evening, we were sitting in a study session for a big test the next day when she got a phone call. Her mother had fallen into a coma, and things did not look well. She left immediately for home, an hour and a half away; to be there should things take a turn for the worst. One of the most painful memories I have is finding out later that she didn’t make it in time; that her mother passed away before she got there to say goodbye.

She remains one of my very dearest friends. I was a witness not only to her mother’s battle with cancer, but the battle she and her family faced as well. It was a long time before that infectious smile graced her face, a long time before I didn’t come home to find her wrapped in a blanket pretending not to be crying, a long time before she was able to move past the pain and grief over a mother taken entirely too soon.

But she did. She was always brilliant, but to this day she maintains some of the highest marks in our class. She does it in memory of her mother, the teacher, and she does it for herself. Her mother taught her to persevere, to be strong in the face of adversity, and to never give up. She fought right until the very end, and her battle embodied every one of those traits she passed on to her daughter. I’m proud to call them both my friends.

It was this story that inspired me to participate in my first Relay the spring after my friend lost her mother. I was amazed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the families of those lost, for survivors, and for those in the midst of their battles. I’ve participated in Relay ever since, always in honor of my friend and in the memory of both her mother and those whom my own family has lost. When I found out that Relay for Life had a Second Life counterpart, I could not wait to see what this wonderful world's take on it would be.

I was not disappointed. Relay for Life in SL was just as moving, just as inspiring as it is in real life. The creativity and love that was put into each detail, from organizing the entire event right down to the design of the sims and campsites, was incredibly moving. Many of us come to SL to escape our real lives, or to merely play a game. To see so many people gathered to honor and support each other's real life struggles was very emotional for me. This year’s relay raised over a quarter of a million U.S. dollars; an amazing some by any account, but especially impressive if you compare it to an average SL salary.

Words cannot express how proud I am to be a part of a community capable of showing such depths of love and caring. As we all walked our final lap after the closing ceremonies, I read many of the notes attached to the luminaria along the course. There were many that alluded to stories just like the one I have shared, but there were also many that expressed the overarching theme of Relay: hope. Relay for Life inspires great hope in me. It is something I can do that really makes a difference. I would encourage you all to do your part to make a difference in someone’s life this week, be it volunteering or simply performing a good deed.

As always, we’d like to express our gratitude to our wonderful friends, clients, and colleagues, many of whom participated in this year’s Relay setting up kiosks in their stores or designing merchandise to profit the American Cancer Society. We are so grateful for all that you do to improve and give back to our SL community and we are proud to call you our friends. I hope the week ahead is both productive and enjoyable for all of you.

Wishing you only the best,
Ansleigh Beverly
Office Manager, Wilder PR