When my husband received his third and final cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2005, he decided to formalize his support team and designed a T-shirt that he intended to make and pass out to his posse. His shirt read: “Team Dippel, Living to Fight - Fighting to Live” on the front and on the back it read: “Fight to be Cancer Free in 2006”. Unfortunately he died a week after he designed it and the shirt was never completed.
Part of the shirt idea lives on in the name Team Dippel. I adopted the name for our American Cancer Society Relay for Life (RFL) Team, which I formed in the spring of 2006. I had ball caps made for all of Team Dippel, and we wear them each year at RFL. Relay is coming up again in April, and we are fundraising like crazy. Our team is currently in 5th place, and I’m hoping we can maintain it. I can’t really speak for the other team members (sisters-in-law, cousins-in-law, brothers, parents, friends, nieces and nephews), but the RFL is an emotionally charged and bitter sweet event for me.
The first year, I was completely unprepared for the intensity of my emotions. As I watched the survivors take their honorary lap, I was struck by the unfairness of it all and wanted to cry out: “Why? Why these people and not him? Why isn’t he here holding my son’s hand and wearing his purple survivors t-shirt? Why?” I felt such raw and conflicting emotions at that moment: bitterness at our loss, happiness and awe for the survival of these other amazing people, guilt for feeling bitter, and also a terrible, terrible sadness.
We have done the relay event for three years now and are coming up on our fourth. I am still somewhat plagued by the same range of feelings although the bitterness has mellowed a bit. Why isn’t he here wearing his shirt? I think the why of it will follow me for the rest of my life, and that question will only be answered when I am no longer around to ask it. The RFL provides an outlet for me though. I feel less powerless in the face of a ruthless disease and feel like I am “Living to Fight” as Daniel had hoped to be. I am empowered by the possibility that I am making a small contribution that might change the path for someone else.