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Feature Article - 31, 2007

I get the Relay for Life after all

Editorial by Inie Platenius

Like many other large organizational fundraising initiatives, the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life walk has always brought out the most skeptical in my already skeptical nature. I was raised to question the workings of big movements, and experience has done little to change that training. Oh, I would always pledge support to a friend or congratulate the young and eager walker for her all night vigil, but at no time and in no way was I willing to be personally involved.

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My refusal to participate was only strengthened by my own cancer journey. I feel blessed to be a 20-year cancer survivor and doubly blessed to now be a beneficiary of new drugs which are keeping the next stages at bay (drugs which I am acutely aware may well be available because of Cancer Society research funds) but these feelings are not of the victory cry nature. I have never felt I “won” a war against something or “beat” a disease. In fact, those phrases make me very uncomfortable. I feel a kinship with other people who are on this journey patients and loved ones alike, and I accept and embrace that every person finds her own path through it. In my experience, large gatherings in aid of a cause tend to lose sight of this personal place.

So it was with great ambivalence that I agreed to participate in the Survivor Lap of the Central Frontenac Relay for Life. In fact, I almost bailed out. At the very time I was to be involved, a friend was celebrating her retirement from many years of teaching and administration in the northern schools. “Really,” I argued to myself, “what is more important? Celebrating friends or supporting big organizations?” In the end, mostly because I had promised another friend himself a cancer survivor that I would participate in the walk as a survivor, I reluctantly headed for Parham.

I will not be so reluctant next year. First of all, the night was wonderfully managed by local people whose clear and driving force was compassion for those who are affected by cancer. Second, the fairgrounds were full of neighbours, colleagues and friends who have all been touched in some way by cancer’s icy finger. Their good humour and camaraderie was a physical presence on the grounds. And that is the point of it all. Yes, it’s wonderful that the relay raised many tens of thousands of dollars, but the real magic was in the wondrous power of the small individual pledges to each team member each pledge made because of some personal connection. The magic was in the dozens of musicians, artists, and tradespeople and professionals who donated their time to keep the event moving again because of being touched in some way by cancer. And the magic was in the teams of walkers who kept the long vigil through the night each one with a personal reason to be involved.

I’m still a skeptic about the workings of large organizations, and I’m still not willing to have my own cancer experience distilled into a slogan, but I am no longer skeptical about the power of the Relay for Life walk, and now I know that I can add my little piece to it in my own little way. Thank you all for that.

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