That is the idea that brought people dressed as Santas, fairies and gladiators to walk beside their friends and families who suffer from cancer and remember those who were lost to the disease as part of the Oakville Relay for Life at Appleby College this Friday.
The dusk to dawn event, celebrating its 10th anniversary, attracted 1,000 people who raised almost $400,000 this year, and $4,000,000 in its ten years. It is one of the largest Relay for Life fundraising efforts in Ontario. Funding that brings hope for a cure.
“There are some challenges that you can’t take on by yourself. But there is power and strength in the ability of a community to make a difference and that as a community reaches out and grows, so grows a hope that we may someday find a cure.” ~ Craig Wilson
“As like a century ago, technology and treatments that were once barely imagined are now imminently possible. It is with our efforts that these [cure for cancer] will get funded,” said Craig Wilson, who personally raised $16,389.00 for the event.
Wilson gave the opening speech at the luminary ceremony. He described the final days he spent with his father who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in a speech that often saw sniffles from the crowd break the sombre silence.
He spoke of the final laughter the family shared, the simple joys and last memories of sharing a popsicle and the uncertainty of how much longer his father had to live. As Wilson spoke, many cradled their loved ones in their arms with tears streaming down their faces, relating to his story.
“When I said good night to him each night, it was really like the last time.”
“There are some challenges that you can’t take on by yourself. But there is power and strength in the ability of a community to make a difference and that as a community reaches out and grows, so grows a hope that we may someday find a cure,” said Wilson.
Laura Indovina led the Survivor’s Victory lap that opened the event. In her opening speech, she described her thoughts and ordeal, from frequent hospital trips to wondering what she would look like without hair, when she discovered she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 11 years old.
Now 23, a registered nurse and 10 year cancer survivor, she said always had hope.
“Hope that I would never stop planning. Hope that I would never stop smiling and hope that I would never stop dreaming. Hope is always there,” said Indovina.
“It is the sea of yellow T-shirts standing in front of me. You are hope. Tonight you fight back. You celebrate life and you remember all those who are smiling down on us,” added Indovina, fighting back tears and to a thunderous applause from the crowd.
There were 120 survivors, dressed in yellow T-shirts, who brought hope back to their community as they marched around the circle for the survivor lap.
Fellow survivor Joanne Hoole, had been involved in the Relay for Life for six years. She had first participated in the event to support her family who had cancer and felt it was a great cause.
“Three years into it, I got cancer,” revealed Hoole. “I did it to help others and yet it came full circle for me.”
She was motivated to “have a stronger team, raise more money and find a cure.”
Hoole cited the atmosphere of the relay event as the reason she keeps coming back. “We are all brothers and sisters fighting cancer together” she said, clearly enjoying herself as she danced the night away beneath the Survivor tent while playing music trivia.
Volunteer co-ordinator Krystyna Chiaravalle, who was in charge of the approximately 200 volunteers, got involved four years ago and was “hooked ever since”.
She said the energy in the event had been growing over the past four years she had been involved.
“It’s becoming a younger crowd. We have a lot of teams who come back year after year, which is great to see, and it seems to be a lot of energy in the past few years. People get really excited bout it,” said Chiaravalle.
She added that people were more likely to dress up in costumes and decorate their tents in the past few years.
“I think the fact that it’s overnight makes it more exciting for people who are younger I think. It’s just so full of life,” said activity co-ordinator Sarah MacIsaac, 19, when asked why younger people are involved.
“I’ve never seen any sense of community on this scale anywhere else – so many people working together for the same thing. It’s really amazing,” added Sienna DiGiuseppe, also an activity co-ordinator.
DiGiuseppe and MacIssac started getting involved five years ago when a mutual friend put together a team for her eight-year-old brother who had cancer.
Chloe Nicholls, 12, was participating in her first Relay for Life. Her grandmother recently died of cancer and Nicholls was raising money in her memory.
“It’s a good chance to try to save people’s lives by raising money for cancer,” said Nicholls. “I’d do it again because then we can raise even more money.”
“My aunt recently died of cancer and it really made an impact on my family and I really want to just help the people who have cancer now so they don’t have to go through what she did,” added her classmate Raisa Ahmed, 13.
“They should come because it is an amazing time and I am having a lot of fun and we are all raising money for something that is really important. So why not come really?” added Ahmed when asked why she thought the younger people participate in the relay.
At the luminary ceremony, the participants walked between the ring of luminaries led by pipers. Some shared lighter moments and laughed together, others in quiet reverie.
“It is really empowering when you see the luminaries as you walk down,” said Allison Kennedy, whose mother is a two time cancer survivor. “We’ve lost family members to cancer so it’s nice to kind of take a moment, reflect on that and remember all the good memories you have and look towards hopefully a cancer free future.”
“If we leave here tonight determined to turn those hopes into action and into a sustained commitment to fight cancer, that’s more than just one fundraiser or one benefit. We will keep hope alive for millions of families for generations to come,” said Wilson as he concluded his luminary speech.
Indovina also added her words of encouragement to other cancer patients and survivors. “I’d like to think of cancer as a chapter in my book, but not the whole story. Tonight I encourage you to write your story. Move on to the next chapter and continue smiling and never stop dreaming.”