The ACS Relay for Life

This year, I was on the committee for running my school's first American Cancer Society Relay for Life, where I spoke during the Illuminaria ceremony. The ceremony was beautiful, and the amount of support and love that it brought the community was incredible.

The speech:

When you think of cancer, you think of death. You hear it in the room and feel the weight that lingers with the word. Cancer. It kills. It brings fear. It scares the world with its causes and its precursors, but, cancer is not always a death sentence. Cancer is a fight. It is a tug of war between strength and fate. Cancer places itself in our community and tries to break us, but as strong as we are, as strong as we can be, people survive.

To survive cancer is a victory. Survival leads to research, advocacy, awareness, and most of all, hope. It gives light to the darkest of the disease, and is often overlooked. Survival is what makes cancer what it is today. Every day it gives us more of a reason to remember how close we are to finding a cure, but most importantly, it reminds us to hope.

I asked my mom to reflect on her experience, her diagnosis and her fight, but instead she told me that,

"Each and every one of us has made steps to change the course of this disease. We may have helped a loved one. We may have gone through a cancer journey ourselves, or perhaps we have donated to research or participated in a fundraiser. In our own way, our emotional and physical scars bring us all together and make us stronger. Today, together, we are making strides to put an end to the suffering caused by cancer -- and the world is watching us and is thankful -- as we honor others in so many ways.”

Last year, after five years of fighting, my mom had her sixth cancer-anniversary. And while she couldn't make it today to tell you what it was like, I am here to tell you what I saw.

My mom is one of the strongest, most inspiring people I know, and watching her fight was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Once affected, it takes a piece from you. A piece of stability, a piece of trust. It robs you of security and leaves you with the constant feeling of loss and uncertainty. It takes the idea of holding on, and lets it slip through your fingers. We don’t understand cancer. We don’t understand the way it works, the way it feels, or the way it affects us, but we do know that it's inevitable, and that's why we are here today.

We are here because we will all at one point be influenced by people who are affected by cancer, and that one day we will be able to lift that piece of sadness from each other's shoulders because we deserve to live in a world where we don’t need to fear. My best friend always told me that we deserve to know that our mothers, our friends, can live as healthily from one day to another. We deserve the chance to believe that life will be as beautiful from one moment to the next.

We relay for this. I relay for my mom and for the rest of the survivors. I relay for the fighters and I relay to honor the ones before. We relay for the ones who carry that piece of sadness and we do it in hope to alleviate it.


Brenna Connolly

I grew up in Burlingame, California, on a tree-lined street surrounded with kids. I went to the Nueva School. During breaks, I worked in a UCSF Bioengineering and Tissue Regeneration lab, assisting in a study on tissue inflammation that was presented at a noted breast cancer research convention. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my immediate fascination for learning about cancer and medicine emerged. Now, at a college preparatory high school in New York, I participate in the Junior Breast Cancer Awareness Club. This summer, I will intern at Stanford's Cardio-thoracic Surgery program, as I am pursuing a career in medicine.