Mrs. Fead Goes to Washington

It is called Celebration on the Hill and it is something I looked forward to for six months beforehand. I had been selected by the American Cancer Society to represent Santa Barbara at this two-day event, the purpose of which was to try to convince Congress to make health-system reform a priority. My husband and I invited my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter Tess to join us in Washington. While there, we visited the White House, Library of Congress, Air and Space Museum, and the Capitol. We also enjoyed a nighttime tour of the monuments. I had forgotten just how magnificent Washington was, and to be able to see it through my eight-year-old granddaughter’s eyes was a memorable treat.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the emotion I felt upon registering among the other legislative ambassadors at the convention center for the two-day event. We donned tee shirts (dark purple for survivors, light purple for supporters); it was sea of purple as far as the eye could see. There were mothers pushing babies in strollers wearing survivor tee shirts. I saw children pushing parents in wheelchairs in survivor tee shirts. Once I saw all these people, it reminded me how cancer doesn’t care if you are young or old, black or white, rich or poor, or what state you are from. It goes across everything. The ambassadors and their supporters were all so courageous, it took my breath away. I was proud to be one of them.

The rally that night at the convention center (there were easily 3,000 people there, from all over the country) was inspirational. Speakers such as Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, and Sam Donaldson spoke of their own experiences with cancer in their families. Their talks were touching and personal.

Breakfast the next morning began with a speech from Senator Dianne Feinstein. Afterwards, we walked across the street to the “wall of hope,” made of signature-laden panels from various statewide relays. Nearby were tents representing each state.

We checked into the California tent just in time for the opening ceremonies. We were first welcomed by speakers, singers, and various entertainment before taking a “survivor lap” around the reflection pool with the Washington Monument in the background. We wore purple shirts wrapped by survivor banners and walked together while the band played and the audience applauded. Later that day, Congresswoman Lois Capps and California Senator Barbara Boxer visited; both signed the American Cancer Society’s Promise.

Music alternated with speeches throughout the day and after the sun went down an estimated 25,000 luminaria bags (paper bags stuffed with sand with a candle inside, every bag with a name on it) placed around the reflection pool were lit in memory and honor of loved ones.

At this point, there were easily 10,000 or more people lined up around the reflection pool. For the closing ceremonies, we waved light sticks while a mellow song wafted off the bandstand.

A huge feeling of how lucky I really was flooded over me and it hasn’t left yet.

I hope it never does.