Military Families supporting Relays For Life across Canada
By Leslie Dunnett
This June, the Relay for Life event, hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society, will be held across the country, raising money for and awareness of cancer.
The first Relay for Life cause was staged by Dr. Grody Klatt in 1985. He held a 24 hour walk/jog around a Tacoma, Washington track, raising over $20,000 for the American Cancer Society. The Canadian Cancer Society launched its pilot project for Relay for Life in Ottawa in 1999. The event was a huge success, raising over $80,000 for cancer research. By 2009, almost 500 Relay for Life events were held across Canada, a number that continues to grow. Last year, in Ontario alone, over $16 million dollars was raised for both research and support for those fighting the disease and their loved ones. You can visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s website, www.relayforlife.ca, to find an event in your area.
“This is an event for people of all ages,” declares Bianca Jorgenson, Relay for Life Coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Alberta and NWT Division. “People can participate by registering online as a team. We recommend that teams have eight to ten people, since this is an overnight event.”
There are also plenty of volunteer opportunities. Anyone interested in helping out at their local event can sign up for volunteer duties online, or even join their local planning committee.
The Relay for Life event is also known for its Luminary Ceremony, which takes place at dusk. Each luminary is $5 and bears the name of a loved one who either survived cancer or was lost to the disease. After the twilight ceremony, the luminaries are lit to provide light and inspiration for the participants as they circle the track. “I first entered a team in 2009,” explains Shannon Pierangeli, member of the planning committee for the Ottawa Centre’s Relay for Life. “My aunt was going through treatment for breast cancer and I felt that, even though I couldn’t help her, I could make a difference by raising money and participating.”
The Luminary Ceremony is an emotional tradition and a way to honour those who have been affected by cancer. “It feels like my aunt’s death has a purpose,” Shannon says. “Every lap around the track all the participants pass by the luminary with her name on it. Even though they don’t know her, it feels like she –and everyone else we honour--are with us for the rest of the night.”
It’s also easy for people to make a donation towards the event. Through the online website, donations can be made to specific teams or just to the cause in general. Luminaries can also be purchased online. Another way to donate is attend the event in person and take part in the fun.
The Relay for Life helps support not only cancer research, but also local organizations that offer support for those fighting this disease.
“The Lodge That Gives is a local facility for Nova Scotians going through cancer treatments, where they stay in a home away from home,” shares Jenn LeLievre one of the Co-Chairs for the Halifax committee and also sister to Shannon Pierangeli. “The Lodge receives no government funding, so the Relay for Life is one of its major supporters.”
The need for donations is one that spans across Canada. “I believe that cancer research is not only important to just the northern communities, but it’s important to all Canadians,” says Jorgenson. “The Canadian Cancer Society is funding the best Canadian cancer research that every Canadian will have access to.”
There are also many other activities that take place. According to Jenn LeLievre, “Our event is a celebration for everyone who has worked hard to create awareness about cancer research. We all get a chance to publicly remember those we’ve lost and those we’ve helped save.”
The Relay for Life also brings communities together, encouraging the involvement of businesses as well as the local military community. In Ottawa, for example Shannon and her fellow military wives have formed their own team: Military Wives Against Cancer. In Yellowknife, the military has been involved in the Relay for Life since 2003, from participating on teams or by volunteering and supporting other military men and women in the survivor’s victory lap. And in Halifax, the Relay for Life committee is hoping to see some military family teams get involved through their local MFRC.
This year there will be many activities to keep people motivated throughout the night. “Games will be available for the kids, as well as activities like theme laps, Relay Idol, midnight yoga, and scavenger hunts,” says Pierangeli. For the past two years, the Halifax event has hosted the Mascot Lap, whereby local organizations such as the Halifax Regional Police, Charles P. Allen High School, and the Canada Games Center all show their support by participating. The Yellowknife event will be showcasing local live entertainment, as well as, “some new surprises”.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Relay for Life or how to help with the Canadian Cancer Society’s efforts year-round, are strongly encouraged to visit their website, www.cancer.ca, to learn about other fundraising events.
However, the Relay for Life is about more than just fundraising. No matter where this event is held in Canada, one thing remains the same: you have to be there to know how amazing it really is. It’s a chance to see your donations at work, and the difference we all can make to hopefully one day eradicate this deadly disease. But most of all, it’s an opportunity for a community to come together and support each other. “I’ll relay until I can’t relay anymore,” promises Shannon.
Leslie Dunnett is a military spouse, mother of two puppies and recovering shoe addict.
Above photo: Shannon (and their RFL team, the Military Wives Against Cancer).