| Jun 12, 2008

Feature Article - June 12, 2008

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Feature Article - June 12, 2008 Celebration, Remembrance, and Another Fight WonBy Julie Druker

Captain Dianne Lake with her Pirates of the Lake, one of many teams entered in this years Relay forLife.

The 2nd Annual Canadian Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” in Frontenac County took place this past Friday at the Parham Fairgrounds, and was once again a huge success. Over 350 participants and roughly 120 volunteers from South, Central and North Frontenac Townships gathered and set up camp for this all-night fundraiser, memorial and tribute to those who are either living with, have beaten, or have succumbed to cancer, and to their supporters and caregivers.

The event works as follows: teams are formed of friends and/or family members who have been touched in some way by the disease. Each team member is responsible for raising a minimum of $100 in donations, the sky being the limit. The teams choose their name and theme, make costumes and props, and plan the set up and decoration of their camp.

On Relay Day, once their camps have been set up and all the teams have walked the initial opening lap of the track, at least one member of each team, baton in hand, must remain walking on the track throughout the night until 7am the next morning. Intermittently, the baton is passed off to other members

Claire Macfarlane (left), chair of the Frontenac relay, remembers the overall astonishment last year when the estimated goal of $25,000 was surpassed and more than $65,000 in donations was raised.

“The crowd gasped when the total amount was read out that early morning.” In fact it was the most money ever raised at a first time event of its kind in all of rural Ontario. That first year set the bar very high for this small, big hearted community.

Who knew what this year would bring?

Half of the funds raised by the Relay for Life go directly to research and half goes to patient services, including transportation.

Jim Beam, a volunteer from North Frontenac, explained that transportation “is a crucial service for the rural patients who require it to travel to and from area hospitals for treatment.”

Similarly, funds supporting ongoing research into various cancer treatments have had an astounding effect on survivor rates. Sixty years ago 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer were expected to survive, as compared to Compare that to the 1 in 2 today. That fact alone is cause for much celebration.

Back in the infield in front of the stage, it was nearing 7pm. The air was buzzing as roughly 35 teams gathered, donning costumes, wigs and makeup, waving signs and cheering as the Opening Ceremony kicked off. Teams with names like “Angels Among Us”, “The Cancer Crushers”, “The Fit Chicks”, “Hannah’s Blossoms of Hope”, The “Cleopatras” and “Pirates of the Lake” reflected the overall campy and fun-loving mood of the entire group. Each team bristled with energy and strutted with a healthy dose of friendly competition.

Town Crier Paddy O’Connor opened the ceremony determined to “make this park rock”. Co-hosts Gary Giller and Jim MacPherson introduced the teams and led a heartily sung rendition of “O Canada”.

Chair Claire Macfarlane introduced the 15 purple-shirted volunteers who have spent long hours organizing the event. She reminded the crowd that “each step that you take around the track tonight brings us one step closer to our goal…towards a day that no Canadian fears cancer.”

Cancer survivor Pearl Killingbeck gav an uplifting speech about her personal cancer journey. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Pearl initially believed that she “would be dead in six months”. She recalled how she “couldn’t talk to anyone at first, needing time to get my head around the disease.” Now in remission after undergoing chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation, she confidently listed all of things that cancer cannot take away: hope, friendship, faith, memories, courage, and the spirit.

Pearl led the survivors’ walk, an emotional parade for those survivors of the disease. Each survivor wore a bright yellow shirt pinned with a blue “survivor” ribbon. The crowd looked on in admiration as the speakers belted out Queen’s “We are the Champions”.

Next was the lap for the teams; each walked as a group, high spirited and showing off their costumes, mascots and signs. Photos were taken of each team after the lap finished and the teams then dispersed to their camps..

By 8:00 pm the campsites were hopping. Country band “Red Rose Express” played on the stage. A sense of excitement and anticipation pervaded amid sounds of laughter while the teams hunkered down for the long haul.

The “Angels Among Us” team invited me into their camp. Helen Coulombe freshened my bare feet with her special secret: a dusting of corn starch. Another member had an odometer to count her steps, which would total 29,203 by morning.

Inside and outside of the screened-in tent there were lounge chairs, cards, games, insect spray, Advil, and, I am told, generous portions of the famed decadent chocolate dessert known as “sex in the pan”.

Team Captain Georgina Bailey-Wicher spoke of her daughter Joanne, whom she lost to cancer two years ago. Joanne’s photo, along with others, decorated the team’s tent.

“You go through all kinds of emotions throughout the night,” she explained, adding that the event has created a closeness between team members, some of whom are cottagers and others full time residents.

Purchased by sponsors at $5 apiece, 430 white starred paper bags known as “luminaries” lined the entire length of the track on both sides. On each bag was inscribed the name of someone affected by cancer; the luminary is lit in honour and memory of that certain individual. When darkness fell at 10:00pm all other lights were dimmed and the track glowed in the candlelight of the luminaries which burned all night long. A lone kilt-clad piper played “Amazing Grace” and led the entire group on an emotional procession around the track. Claire Macfarlane said “there is never a single dry during that procession.”

Speaking to Claire again post Relay Day, I learned that this year’s event has been another huge success, on many levels. Financially, a grand total $67,708.41 was raised, which surpassed last year’s total.

Claire wishes to thank everyone involved and all of the corporate sponsors. The other big winner, of course, is the community as a whole.

This small community is a place where cancer is being fought with confidence and good heartedness by people who once again have come together and shown their willingness and determination to “Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back".

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