TRURO – “I wish it was me and not you.”
As the words came out of her mother’s mouth, Paula Crocker’s ears burned. She couldn’t handle to hear her mother wish disease and uncertainty upon herself – to hope for a life of chemotherapy, sickness, pain and grief.
She couldn’t stand to hear her mother wish to carry the burden upon herself, or to take that battle away from her.
“No, mom,” she said. “I’m glad it’s me.”
On Saturday afternoon, amidst scattered showers and gloomy skies, more than 500 people gathered in Perennia Park to celebrate the living, remember the dead, and raise money to kill the cause – cancer. Dozens of yellow shirts walked around the park perimeter, wearing a memento of the fight they survived. Crocker was one of them.
Paula Crocker had breast cancer. Two lumps, Grade 3. That was just a fact, plain and simple. Paula Crocker has brown eyes and brown hair. Facts. There was nothing she could do to immediately fix the situation; it was out of her control. She woke up in the morning and went about her day the best she could.
“Life goes on,” she said. “Life doesn’t care if you have cancer. You still have to wake up in the morning, make breakfast, make the bed, take care of your family. Nothing changes.”
Crocker’s toughness was put to the test that year, as a rollercoaster of events rocked her life. A cancer diagnosis kicked off year 40, followed by a mastectomy and a divorce being finalized, before the tides turned with an engagement and a marriage.
“That year 40th year was really memorable,” she said with a smile.
Scattered around the park were people of all ages, keeping busy throughout the day. A group of kids rallied a beach ball while others played tug-of-war. Live music ran throughout the day, with a break around 5 p.m. to announce the groups had raised more than $90,000 thus far. (Editor's note: the amount announced was incorrect due to a technological error. This year's Relay for Life raised more than $76,000 in Colchester County.)
Leading the way in fundraising were the Truro Treasures, a tightknit family group who raised more than $8,000, with the bulk of it coming from one member – Ruth Ogilvie.
“We started fundraising about a week after last year’s event,” she said as she stood with her group, including her mother Shirley, a cancer survivor. “We sold hot dogs, collected bottles…just whatever we could do, we did.”
Shirley got the diagnosis, kidney cancer, three years ago. She turned to the support of her friends, including Linda McHugh, a uterine cancer survivor. Last year, McHugh was also diagnosed with kidney cancer.
After having surgery right before the event, her team brought the Relay to her house last year, a day after they rallied through the official one. They set up luminaries and camped out for the night in the backyard.
It’s a tradition McHugh could never miss.
“To do that initial survivor’s lap, I choke up and cry every year,” McHugh said. “And then the last lap, when you see the sun come up…We survived the night and we survived cancer.”
Paula Crocker smiles as she remembers the day she was done with cancer. Her eyes gaze down, however, as she remembers what else happened that day.
“I had my last round of chemotherapy on Monday morning. And then that afternoon, we buried my father.”
After her own diagnosis, her father learned of his. It was bad – bone and liver cancer.
“He knew,” she said. “He looked at me and he knew. And I said to him, ‘Dad, if you wanted a competition, this is not the one I wanted to have with you.’”
She’ll never forget the Monday she was cancer-free.
“It was a great end for me, and I was able to be there for him,” she said.
Thinking back on her mother’s words, Crocker looks at her 11-year-old son and understands.
“It’s just how mothers think. I would want to do the same for him.”
Paula Crocker has attended the last three Relay For Life events in Truro, hoping someday she’ll never have to say those words to her son.
“I wish it was me and not you.”