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PEC Relay for Life – an evening in support of fighting cancer

Cancer survivors wear yellow T-shirts

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Hundreds turned out to the Picton Fairgrounds Friday night for the 9th annual Relay for Life – a night to bring community together, share stories, not just sadness and tears, but also tales of joy and remarkable strength.

The fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society is an all-volunteer event that not only celebrates survivors and remembers lost loved ones, but is also an opportunity to get together with others to be part of the bigger picture when it comes to fight to conquer the disease. The 19 teams raised $38,433.

During opening ceremonies, emcee Rick Zimmerman welcomed Lola McMurter to the stage. She is a fundraising specialist for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Lola McMurter

“At Relay for Life we raise money for cancer research for all types of cancer,” said McMurter. “We are all touched by cancer; someone we love has either had cancer or has cancer. Cancer does not discriminate. It does not care if you are a child or a mother, father, brother, sister or grandparent. It doesn’t care if you’ve just bought your first house or if you are about to graduate from school.”

McMurter lost her father to lung cancer 14 years ago this month.

“I think about him every day and miss him every day,” said McMurter. “So this is personal, it’s a personal battle.”

McMurter welcomed her cousin, 16-year-old Abigail Heffernan, a PECI student, to share the story of her journey of a three-year battle with leukemia.

“In September, she will be done her treatments,” said McMurter.

Abigail Heffernan

“Three years ago, I never thought I’d be on this stage speaking to all of you, telling you about a journey that I sometimes cannot even comprehend myself,” said Heffernan.

“This journey began on Sept. 22, 2015 when I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I was 13 at the time.

“When we got the news, I realized this wasn’t something I couldn’t fix. This was something bigger than all of us. I never felt as lost or as broken as I did in those few moments until the realization hit that me that my parents were most likely feeling worse,” she told the crowd.

“This experience has shaped me and changed me all ways possible. I’m not the same person I was before this, and I never will be. There were days when my mind and my body said ‘no’, but I kept going.

“People will say to me, I don’t know how you keep fighting? How do you find motivation? If you put your mind in the right place, set your priorities straight and realize what you’re fighting for, I promise you, you will be able to conquer the world,” said Heffernan.

She and other survivors led the first lap around the track, inspiring others to keep moving forward – on their fight, their fundraising and awareness. Other laps continued throughout the night and included the funny hat lap, the meet your neighbour lap, the people mache lap and the carnival parade lap.

This year’s Relay for Life theme was “Carnival for a Cure” as the light-hearted tone included kids events, games, bingo, balloons, fresh popcorn, a candy store and more.

Team Abby’s Army with Abigail Heffernan (centre)

Local musicians lent their support throughout the evening keeping things lively and entertaining. Mark Despault of The Frere Brothers opened the evening’s entertainment. Gavin Massey played several sets to an appreciative audience and Jamie Pounder, The Frere Brothers and Bill McBurney continued the live music well into the evening.

The County School of Dance warming up prior to their performances.

A ballet performance by County School of Dance students.

The County School of Dance performed a number of charming dances, ballet and singing routines including delightful renditions of “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” from Oliver, and Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful of Sugar”.

The CNC Country Dancers demonstrated country western line dancing, also pulling in people from the crowd to learn and perform a few steps.

On-site food vendors included a barbecue put on by the Prince Edward County firefighters.

Nationally, there are 415 events with 110,000 participants who have collectively raised more than $500 million for the Canadian Cancer Society. Relay for Life in Prince Edward County has raised more than $1 million since it began eight years ago. Funds are needed on an on-going basis to finance research especially, but also drug trials.

Luminaries awaiting the setting sun.

Again this year, and every year, luminaries were placed along the track by individuals and team members as a way to remember, and to support those affected by cancer. The luminary ceremony was held after dark as the battery-operated candles were turned on and illuminated messages to loved ones written on the bags by family and friends.

Now in its second year in a new format, the shortened event lasting six hours, from 6pm to midnight, used to run for 12 hours.

“We each have our own reasons for being here,”“ said McMurter.
“Money raised today goes primarily to fund cancer research because without research, there can be no cure, there can be no improvements in treatment, or quality of life or no remission. But money raised also goes to fund our programming, including volunteer drivers. Without volunteers, none of this is possible.”

“Putting together an event like this is not easy; it takes about a year of planning,” said McMurter. “This event is the 9th anniversary for Prince Edward County, so it’s a main player of the Canadian Cancer Society and it’s very important to fight this battle and to raise money for research.

“As I look around, it’s proved positive that we’re in the right direction, our [survivor] rates are increasing and we just need to see more yellow [survivor] shirts,” said McMurter.

Organizers are already looking forward to a special 10th anniversary event next year.

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