Hope Express Story: Cast Your Stone

Caveat: This post is especially for Hope Express runners, past and present:

Yet again, Hank has beckoned me to duty.  My story, “start to finish,” about my experience with the Hope Express. I asked someone dear to me, what he thought that meant.  He said, “What inspired you?”  Herein lies my feeble attempt to answer that question and Hank’s call:

To help you understand my story, you’re going to get a short history lesson about the Hoover Dam and a bit of a longer history lesson about me.  Around 1900, the US Government began talking about how they needed a dam at the border of Arizona and Nevada on the Colorado River.  It wasn’t until 1928 that Congress authorized construction of such a dam.  Six Companies, Inc. began construction in 1931, the Dam was dedicated on September 30, 1935 and, finally, on March 1, 1936, Six Companies, Inc. turned over the functioning of Hoover Dam to the government.   This was a full two years ahead of schedule.  At the dedication, the dam was called, “Boulder Dam.” It wouldn’t assume it’s current name until 1947.

My story begins a lifetime ago.  I had a pretty easy-going early childhood.  My parents went through a divorce when I was five, but they managed to keep me so removed from the fallout that can ensue from such an occurrence, that I traversed the experience generally unscathed.  We weren’t rich, but we had a lot of fun.  One of the most delightful parts of my little life happened to be vacations to my paternal grandparent’s house in Pennsylvania.  My grandfather, Pop, was what I would call, “a real rock-n’-roller.”  I could talk about this amazing man for days and still not cover all the ways he was special to me.  For our purposes, just know, I would have done anything, anywhere, anytime, anyhow for this man.

When I was nine years old, this man, my Pop, was diagnosed with cancer.  He had tumors in his brain.  Now, those of you who know me, can probably imagine how precocious of little squirt I had the capacity to be.  Your imaginings are entirely accurate.  I just KNEW this stupid cancer thing wasn’t strong enough to beat my Pop.  This guy was indestructible.  This guy could do anything, so beating cancer was probably not even on his list of difficult tasks to complete in a lifetime.  This moment in my life was like the year 1900 in the life of Hoover Dam.  This is where cancer became something more than just a myth to me.  This is where I talked about it. This is where I learned about it. His death, when I was ten, was where I learned to fear it. His death was like I tossed a tiny stone, me, into the Colorado River.  I was just washed away, or, at least that’s how I felt.

The next few years were similar to the next twenty-eight years in the progression of the Hoover Dam.  It was this odd, sort of, nothing happening time.  I think the topic flowed in and out of my life-like the Colorado River needing a dam metaphorically flowed in and out of the conversations of Congress. When I was fifteen, the river cancer flooded my world, again.  It took my Dad.  It took what was left of my childhood.  Cancer makes children into adults.  The Wednesday before he died, we were called to the hospital in the middle of the night because his breathing was shallow.  I watched his chest go up and down all night.  The next day, after school and cross county practice, my mother and I completed the nightly ritual of going to my Dad’s house to get Grammy and then going to the hospital.  That Thursday night was different.  That night, I became an adult.  Before we left, Mom talked to me in the hall.  She said, “He’s hanging on for you.  You need to tell him that it’s ok to go.”  The moments following in that hospital room were the most difficult moments of my life.  Nothing I ever do, the rest of my life, will compare to the Hell I experienced in those moments.  He died the following Saturday.  These were the years I talked about the river cancer more.  These were the years just before the 1928 Congressional decision to do something about the Colorado River.  I was a stone, washed away in the river cancer again.  These were the years I learned to HATE cancer.

The metaphorical 1928 resolution comes during my freshman year of college.  I was getting off the elevator of the eighth floor of Tener Hall (my dorm at Penn State).  There were some people sitting in the foyer.  Every form of craft supply was strewn about .  A girl named Sarah, someone who would become one of my very best friends, asked if I wanted to make a card for the THON dancers.  Sarah spent some time introducing me to THON.  I may have left a few cards for some dancers that year, but I walked away a different person.  I decided it was time to change the river and found a way: a dam.

After making that first card, I was hooked.  THON was in my blood.  I volunteered for THON and, in 2006, was blessed with the amazing experience of dancing in THON.  I know I don’t need to go into detail to any THON alumni/Four Diamonds Fund Families about the completely magical experience that is THON.  Here is where the divergence between the Hoover Dam and our effort lies.  Standing in Rec Hall with all those amazing people, it occurred to me that I was not a drowning stone in the river cancer.  I was part of a huge dam already under construction.  The river’s course was changing. This is when I stopped fearing cancer and stopped hating cancer.  Fear and hate accomplish nothing.

After doing something like dancing in THON, one spends a great deal of time wandering around trying to figure out how to make that much of a difference every day.  It’s not possible.  It’s just not going to happen.  For a few years, I think I asked myself almost every day, “How was I going to EVER come close to a feeling like that again? How was I going to continue to be something; a stone?  A part of changing the course?”

The Hope Express.  The moment I saw the website, I knew this was my answer.  As I explained in the post about Runners’ Weekend, that first weekend was a life-changer for me.  I became entirely determined to make and keep this crazy Hank Angus-scheme a part of my life.  That which I have absorbed from the Hope Express far exceeds anything I have put in.  I had to stop myself, countless times during this narration, from giving recap information about the Hope Express.  Amazing experiences and surprises await you in a few short weeks and then your own story about what inspired you and what brought you to that weekend will unfold. Take in every moment. All that you have done with THON as a Penn Stater, all that you have gone through as a Four Diamonds Family member, all this has made you a stone in the river cancer.  This is the part where you learn to not fear cancer.  This is the part where you learn that hating cancer just makes you dark.  This is the part where you learn to HOPE.  Did you know Hope isn’t just flimsy wishful thinking; HOPE is gritty determination.  This is where you’re going to get gritty.  This is the weekend you are a huge part of the Hoover Dam stopping the Colorado River that is cancer.

So, here’s the deal: When we all decided to be a part of this amazing thing that Hank dreamed up, we put a rock in the stream: we put ourselves in the dam.  We made it so cancer had to change direction.  After this weekend, the specifics are up to you.  Are you going to let the stream wear down the rocks; wash the dam below the surface; push the stones to the shore? Or are you going to stand strong?  Are you going to get more rocks to meet you in the middle of the river? I am. I am going to stand there in the way with Hank, Connie and everyone else committed to this for the long haul.  I’m going to stand there until there are enough of us to stop the river. I’m going to stand there until the equivalent of the March 1, 1936 date when the dam is complete.  I’m going to stand there until we aren’t running for a cure anymore: until we’re running to celebrate.

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