The current political climate makes it easy to point fingers, be frustrated. It’s a good excuse to lash out at someone for a reason that may or not be valid. An outlet, if you will, for the angst that we are all feeling no matter your view. That is not what we need right now. We do not need to be inundated with tweets and sound bites that serve to fuel that anxiety. We need celebration of the things in our lives that make us want to get up the next day.
As involved as Alia and I are in our community we usually end up attending many award breakfasts/lunches/dinners. I enjoy them because they serve as a reminder of all the good work being done in Terre Haute by leaders trying to make our city a better place to live. It occurred to me, though, after attending a recent event, the award recipients are typically affiliated with businesses, or what I might classify as large-scale community projects. Sometimes they work for a non-profit but that doesn’t seem to be the norm. This struck me as odd since, in my experience, a considerable amount of work is being done behind the scenes. As much if, not more than the names and faces that show up regularly in the same circles. While I certainly agree they deserve recognition for their tireless work, it gave me pause to consider those that influence us each day, whether we know it or not.
It didn’t take long for me to list off ten or so people that I felt deserved some kind of recognition for work that continuously goes unnoticed. One person stood out above the rest. This particular individual came into my life on the fringe, through association with my Dad and his work with Relay for Life. If you’re not aware, Relay is an event put on in communities by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to raise funds for all kinds of things affiliated with the treatment of cancer. It includes research, funding transportation for patients to doctor visits, programs that encourage healthy living and provides educational material to the public.
I had the notion to write this article just a few days before she was diagnosed and so asked her to let me interview her. Instead, we spent our visits in the hospital telling jokes, playing games on Nintendo Wii and sharing text messages of randomness too inappropriate to include here. She passed away in the late hours of February 7th.
I met Rachel Romas…well, I cannot exactly remember when. Five, six years ago? Maybe longer. Time tends to get wibbly-wobbly when you get close to people. It was at a Relay event in Greencastle, I know that much. I distinctly recall my Dad telling me how impressed with Rachel he was because she worked tirelessly. It wasn’t just Relay in Greencastle; she also organized those events all around West Central Indiana. Through her work with ACS, she traveled through Indiana sharing her unrelenting positive outlook on life and unquenchable thirst for fun.
Our friendship really began when I saw Rachel at, surprise, surprise, a fundraiser at The Speakeasy in Terre Haute. True to form, she was gracing the crowd with a karaoke version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. A song she sang every time there was karaoke and the same song that would get us banned from another bar three years later. Apparently dropping the mic is a major karaoke no-no. She took it the same way she approached everything, with a silver lining.
Rachel’s attitude would be impressive for any person. However, hers was even more impressive because at the age of four she was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor, a type of cancer found most commonly in kidneys. Despite this mountainous adversity, Rachel persevered. She devoted the next twenty-seven years of her life to helping other people. Most notably working with an organization that would seek to help other kids, fathers and mothers so they would not have to suffer the same experience. The tens of thousands of dollars that she raised through Relay for Life was just the surface.
In her continuing endeavor to find ways to give back to her community, Rachel served as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Altrusa of Terre Haute, Camp R.A.V.E. and many other organizations. She worked in similar roles at Saint Mary of the Woods College (SMWC), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) and Chances and Services for Youth (CASY). At each workplace Rachel made instant friends. She cared for her coworkers as if they were her own family.
Last September Rachel began her second battle with cancer. This time a unique form, Acute Lymphoblastic T-Cell Lymphoma. I had the notion to write this article just a few days before she was diagnosed and so asked her to let me interview her. Instead, we spent our visits in the hospital telling jokes, playing games on Nintendo Wii and sharing text messages of randomness too inappropriate to include here. She passed away in the late hours of February 7th.
It’s fitting that Rachel was so involved with Relay. Not because of her own battle with cancer but because of the message I could only see in the days after she died. We are blessed with the opportunity to know so many people throughout our lives. We run around our individual worlds, sometimes taking notice of the way we affect others, sometimes recognizing the way they influence ours. Most of the time, though, the rest of humanity goes unnoticed. There is no way to surmount how many lives Rachel influenced. The majority of the people she affected probably don’t even know who she is. Awards, ceremonies, trophies are all nice. None of it matters if people cannot remember you the next day.
But that’s life. It’s a bit of a race. It’s important to recognize the true heroes when we come across them. When they pass us their baton we need to remember why we’re running. If Rachel were here she’d tell me not to stop; that every moment matters. It’s a relay for hope, for change. Pass it on.
OAK HARBOR, Wash. (June 6, 2008) Luminaries line the Oak Harbor Middle School track for the Relay For Life of North Whidbey, June 6. Relay For Life is a fundraiser held by the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research and to promote cancer awareness. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tucker M. Yates (Released) Photo: Public Domain of the United States.