The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 12, 2011.

The last time I slept outside in a tent was eight years ago. It wasn’t even a tent, actually, but a large cardboard box. I was chaperoning a homeless awareness experience my daughter was taking part in, which was designed to raise funds, as well as awareness, for the homeless.

The thing I remember most about the event was how bone-chillingly cold I felt during the night. The chaperones, as well as the kids, were allowed to bring only one blanket, plus whatever clothes we were willing to wear or carry for 24 hours straight. And even though I was on the lawn of our church property, with my car visible in the nearby parking lot, I remember thinking – as I shivered and shuddered and dozed fitfully – that I might really die before morning. Even though there were dozens of people around me in cardboard boxes of their own, I have never felt as helpless, vulnerable and alone as I did that night.

Tomorrow night, I will once again be spending the entire night outdoors. And again, it will be to help raise funds and awareness, but this time it is for cancer research and treatment. I’ll be taking part in the Eastern Carver County Relay for Life at Chaska High School from 6 pm Friday until the closing ceremony at 6 am Saturday.

I took part in the event last year – as a speaker, a participant, and a team leader – but the rainy weather forced the event inside. Hopefully, that won’t happen this year. There’s something about being outside and dealing with the elements all night that brings both the reality and the symbolism of the experience much closer to home.

The Relay for Life takes place at night because cancer never sleeps. And the participants – many of whom are cancer survivors or have lost a loved one to cancer – know that the discomfort and inconvenience they’re going through for this 12-hour period is nothing compared to what cancer patients deal with as they’re battling the disease.

But the event isn’t really about suffering, it’s about celebrating. The main purpose is to raise money for cancer research, education, treatment and prevention, in order to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

I’ve had 23 birthdays since my own diagnosis of breast cancer, which came right after the birth of my daughter. Although the thought of dying from cancer was a scary one, it wasn’t nearly as frightening as the thought of not being here for my kids. But not only did I survive long enough to watch my kids grow up, I was able to watch my daughter walk down the aisle just a few weeks ago. And, although I’m not rushing this, I’m now planning and hoping to be here long enough to watch grandchildren grow up, too.

And I want to help other cancer survivors do the same. To celebrate more birthdays of their own and of their loved ones. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to being out in the elements all night tomorrow.

Whether walking along the outdoor track, taking a rest break inside the tent, or following whatever path is laid out for the Relay for Life tomorrow night, I’ll be there with hundreds of other people who will also be honoring the memory of loved ones lost to cancer and celebrating the lives of all cancer survivors. And together we’ll be raising hope, funds and awareness, so that no one with cancer ever has to feel helpless, vulnerable and alone.

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© Betty Liedtke, 2011