After several months of planning and an all-night marathon relay session, organizers were understandably a little tired.
But a lack of sleep wasn’t enough to dampen the spirit of the group.
“It was a wonderful night,” said Kathy Towle, who co-chaired the Relay for Life along with Helen Fauchon, who are both cancer survivors. “We’re all pretty tired right now, but we feel great about how things turned out. We’re really pleased with everything and we can’t say enough about the support we received from across the Southwest.”
The fundraising event – which honours cancer survivors and pays tribute to those who have lost their battle with the disease – was an overwhelming success from both a logistical and financial standpoint.
Organizers announced early Saturday morning that more than $83,000 had been raised through the event, although that total was still climbing as donations continued to pour in.
The 2014 Southwest Relay for Life once again turned out to be an emotional evening – featuring plenty of smiles and more than a few tears – that ultimately proved to be an uplifting experience for those who shared in the experience.
The celebration began at 5:30 p.m. with a good turnout for the pre-relay meal. An estimated crowd of some 500 people attended the stew supper.
The event officially kicked off later with ceremonies Friday night, including words from co-chairs Kathy Towle and Helen Fauchon.
“This is an amazing gathering,” said Fauchon. “Families, co-workers, business and community leaders, children, grandparents, and neighbours are all here for the same reason . . . to put an end to cancer.”
“We have gathered as a community, determined that those who are facing cancer will be supported, that those who have lost their battle will not be forgotten, and that together we will continue to fight back so that one day no one will hear those dreadful words – ‘you have cancer.’”
Bob Smith and Linda Wanner-Fritz served as emcees for the occasion and they were joined onstage by guest speakers Shaunavon mayor Sharon Dickie, Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson, Beth Humphrey who represented Cypress Hills MLA Wayne Elhard and Carly Gowan the Canadian Cancer Society’s provincial Relay for Life manager.
Also making a presentation at the event was special guest speaker Kyla McMullin, who delivered an inspiring message to the gathered crowd.
Kyla is a cancer survivor. On February 21, 2011, she gave birth to her first child, and three days later she learned that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I have one wish,” stated McMullin. “I wish that by sharing my journey, we all become motivated to pay it forward with whatever means we are able. And at the same time, we become inspired to receive. To receive blessings that come at the most difficult times. And to receive the gifts that are handed to us in each precious moment.”
McMullin spoke of her cancer diagnosis – during a time in her life that was ironically filled with so much joy – and the battles she faced during treatment and an uncertain future.
“It is strange how quickly life changes,” she told the crowd. In just a breath, the world you thought you knew is taken away, and you are given a new look at life. With new priorities and new reasons.”
“The hard days seem so long ago, so far behind me,” she added. “And although the scars remain, it is love and hope that continues to flow through my hardened veins, the damage done by the chemotherapy. These veins now serve as a reminder that I will not break. I will grow. And I will continue to learn life’s great lessons.”
“As we stand here tonight, let me remind us all that we walk for a cause that not only represents hope, but demands it here,” she added. “We stand here as an inspiration, as change. We stand together, we walk together, as one collective body. We are an army.” “As we take steps forward, we have one outcome in mind. To find a cure for cancer. And perhaps along the way, our efforts and our footprints will continue to make things easier for those yet to experience cancer and treatment.”
“Hope is the reason I stand here today,” she said near the conclusion of her presentation. “Because for me, hope is not just a feeling. Hope is a purpose.”
A victory Lap of local cancer survivors, all wearing bright yellow t-shirts, followed McMullin’s presentation. The group was individually introduced by Wendy Thienes. About 75 cancer survivors from across the Southwest took part in the event.
At the end of their Victory Lap the group of survivors was joined by a large contingent of caregivers, family members and friends for a second lap around the track.
The 16 relay teams – comprised of 178 participants – were then introduced for their own opening lap around the track.
The emotional intensity peaked again at about 10 p.m. with the luminary ceremony. The luminaries, which served as a boundary for the track, were purchased in memory of loved ones who had lost their battle with cancer along with survivors who have fought the disease.
The rink went dark and the luminaries were lit, providing a beautiful and touching setting for the event. There were 1,110 luminaries sold as part of the fundraising effort, and luminary chairperson Brenda Waldron was praised for all her hard work in getting to locations throughout the region.
The luminary lighting was accompanied by some beautiful songs from Amanda Kush and words from Relay committee member Linda Wanner.
“This is a time for us to grieve for those we’ve lost,” said Wanner. “It’s a time for us to reflect on how the disease has touched each of us personally. And it’s a time for us to look inside ourselves with quiet reflection and to find hope.”
“Each luminary represents a treasured relationship,” she added. “They represent people, each with a name and a story to tell. They are our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, our brothers, our sons, our daughters, our friends, and our loved ones. We love these people, we remember them, we celebrate them, and we fight back against this disease for them.”
The luminary ceremony also included a moment of silence and a quiet lap around the track by all participants.
Throughout the evening participants and visitors were treated to food, games, among them a spirited Zumba session and water balloon races, as well as a revolving number of great stage performers who entertained throughout the night.
The relay participants, meanwhile, continued their 12-hour trek that saw at least one member (and often many more) of each team on the circuit throughout the night.
They carried team colours and flags – wore team costumes and uniforms – and hung team banners.
All of the teams set up a homebase in a tent village style location – with lounge chairs, food and beverage supplies, and blankets, but without the actual tents – on the mezzanine level of the CPWC over looking the rink floor.
Much of the Southwest was represented at the event, with participants coming from across the region.
The enormous group shared a strong common bond and shared camaraderie that comes with doing something worthwhile for the benefit of others, and facing a battle against a disease that does not recognize community boundaries.
Most of those involved in the event had a close personal connection to someone who has faced cancer.
Teams continued to walk the track throughout the night before gathering one final time for an early morning breakfast and a few closing words from officials.
Both Fauchon and Towle extended their sincere appreciation to everyone involved in the Relay, including their fellow committee members. The committee included Carol Hansvall, Linda Wanner Fritz, Lois Thienes, Mia Frederick, Sylvia Pommier, Patty Wright, Carol Ann Hansen, Rhonda Johnston, Lola Piquette, Ava Kalaschnick, Ron Phillips, Joanne Gregoire, Charmaine Bernath, Warren Nesland, Brenda Waldron, Leah Lunz, and Russell Whyte.
“I really want to thank everyone who had anything to do with this relay for their participation,” stated Towle. “When I looked out at the crowd in the stands, I was sure the whole south west was there. It was truly a memorable evening and night. It was very gratifying, and emotional. I want to really thank Helen for asking me to co-chair this with her. I was really afraid to start with, but it quickly became clear we had a great crew willing to work along with us. Raising $83,000.00 is remarkable and it is still coming in.”
“The Shaunavon Relay For Life committee did an incredible job,” said Gowan, the provincial relay manager. “They put together an awesome event. I couldn’t be more impressed with their work and dedication. “
“I also want to thank the Southwest for their support of the event,” she added. “Everyone came together to make the 2014 Relay For Life a huge success.”