(Co-chairs L-R: Kelsey Munro and Caitlin Bauer. Photo: Stittsville Central)
On the evening of March 22nd, Marli Jago (Stittsville Central’s Co-op student) and I attended Algonquin College’s Relay for Life that was co-chaired by Kelsey Munro and Stittsville’s Caitlin Bauer, along with an incredible volunteer team. We want to take you to the evening we shared with these brave cancer survivors, those struggling with the disease and those who succumbed but were being remembered in the slideshow you will find later in the article.
Against the backdrop of a living wall of plants, the evening began with introductions and speeches, but these weren’t just any typical speeches. These alone convinced Marli and I that we should stay the evening. We heard from the Chair of the Ottawa Brain Tumour Support Group, Pablo Coffey, sharing his inspirational story of his ongoing numerous surgeries since age 17. How his life has been lived with nothing holding him back, including the birth of his beautiful children in light of having received chemo at a young age. He will be undergoing another surgery in two weeks time. Isabella Coffey, (Pablo’s daughter) gave an eloquent speech about her father and how he has taught her and her sister (Co-Chair Kelsey Munro) to be strong and go with their heart. We heard Brittany Pegg relating her Mom’s story of her battle with cancer. These stories were heart wrenching and brought tears to everyone. After the speeches, it was time for everyone to participate in the first lap walk.
Many events were planned for the teams to participate in from board games, physical sports, to meeting Tia a therapy dog from St. John’s Ambulance, and crafting your luminary. Marli and I each had reason to make our luminary. Marli made hers for her Grandmother who had passed away from cancer and for her other Grandmother who has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I made mine in memory of my Mom who passed away from an aggressive brain tumour that from diagnosis to passing was only 5 months and for Gord Downie who had a place in our family’s heart because of his close connection to my Dad and our family.
Something also extraordinary, the ‘Open Mic – Why I Relay’, took place and was a first for any Relay. Those who felt they wanted to share their story could approach the stage to do so. Several people came forth – a young women who could not ever be pregnant as at 15 she had her reproductive organs removed due to cancer. She had lived life with this not particularly bothering her until just recently when her best friend had a baby. It was like a load of bricks to her realizing she could never do so and was having a hard time with her friendship. Many students told their stories of the loss of a parent or grandparent to cancer. We heard from the Chair of the Colorectal Cancer Support Group, Robert Hamilton, who told a most moving story, not only of his own battle, but his friend Ruth who had been diagnosed and had had exactly the same tests, surgeries, chemo treatments as he, and had come to her last meeting of the group to say goodbye – she had opted to have doctor assisted euthanasia. Everyone in the room was in tears after hearing these shared stories.
It was now time for the walk to remember, pray and take in the luminaries. A sight that you can’t appreciate until there in person. When you see these luminaries lined up hall after hall and realize that there were only 100 or so participants in this Relay for Life and the number of messages written – you think to yourself – how many people across Canada are going through or have fought cancer? It really is astounding when put into perspective of how cancer has raised it’s ugly head and affected the lives of so many.
Caitlin, Kelsey and their team organized an event that was beyond expectations. The goal was to raise $15,000 and by 7:00am Saturday morning they had successfully raised $16,325.33 – “beating all our previous school records” Caitlin told me. Caitlin added that “she is looking forward to the start of organizing next year’s Relay for Life at Algonquin”.
The teams are still fundraising for the next 30 days and you can help in their endeavour by donating to cancer research and the support of cancer families by donating here.