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Relay for Life organizers urging community to help fight the fight

Leading the Relay Suvivors’ Walk at the 2017 event.

By Olivia Timm
Relay for Life is just weeks away and organizers are encouraging participants and volunteers to show their support for the Cancer Society fundraiser – and those fighting the fight.

“We have done our very best this year to put our heads together to think about how to bring the community together a little bit more,” said Lori McGinnis, long-time volunteer. “Cancer does of course bring sadness and tears, but it can also bring joy. It brings survivors, it brings the community together to rally. It affects every single age group, and so that’s why we wanted Relay to be a family event this year. So we came up with the ‘Carnival for a Cure theme.'”

Popcorn machines, stilts, balloons, twisters and clowns, are all part of the six-hour long evening Saturday, June 9 at the Picton fairgrounds. Plenty of fun themed-laps are being planned to attract families. Highlighting the event, as has been in the past eight years, the track will be lined with luminaries placed by team members, volunteers and individuals who want to remember and support those affected by cancer.

However, with time ticking down, Tina Rutgers, Chair of Picton’s Relay for Life committee, is concerned there might not be enough teams involved.

Tina Rutgers, Chair of Picton’s Relay for Life committee and Lori McGinnis, long-time volunteer, encourage teams and volunteers to sign up, and support, Picton’s ninth annual Relay.

“We need volunteers and we need teams. We always appreciate whoever comes and whoever sponsors the event. We realize that there are many other organizations that are just as important. However, our statistics are staggering,” she said. “Not only will one in two Canadians get a cancer diagnosis, but one in four will die.”

“Part of the reason, too, is people are living longer … We need the dollars. We need to continue to focus on what is real and that is the dollars equal research, equal trial drugs, which brings a longer lifespan to people – and hope,” McGinnis added.

The Relay committee started to brainstorm fresh ideas to build on the newly-shortened evening – from 12 hours to six hours. This will be the second year it will run from 6 p.m. to midnight.

“Some people were a little bit nostalgic because they hold the idea that, cancer doesn’t sleep, so why should you?,” said McGinnis. “But we were a bit concerned about the safety of people up for 12 hours and committee members, who are often up for 24 hours practically, when you consider set-up and take-down. So we tried it last year and we’ve had some great compliments about it, and now people are looking forward to six hours this year, too.”

In past years, organizers noted that following the luminary ceremony at sundown, about 75 per cent of people left the event.

So the commitee hopes participants will stay until midnight and enjoy the fun and entertainment.

“The entertainment is all local, all volunteer and we’re hoping that it brings more awareness,” said McGinnis. ” We are really hoping we see our 10th year, our 11th, 12th year. We know that some people sadly have passed. We know that in speaking to some of the survivors, that they do sometimes like to close that chapter in their book and we totally appreciate and understand that. It’s really about them. It’s about hope. It’s about raising money so they can continue.”

The event is also an opportunity for cancer survivors to reflect on how far they have come in their journey. A key part is for them to share their story.

“When we see the survivors walk around, it touches all of our hearts,” said Rutgers. “When we light the luminaries at night for those who we have lost and for the people who still fight the fight, it touches our hearts. It is something we are all passionate about.”

“It’s a bittersweet event. We wish we didn’t have to have these kinds of events. We wish there was some magic cure that eliminated dreadful diseases at a moment’s notice, but the facts are the facts. The cause is why we do what we do,” McGinnis added.

They noted several survivors in the County who continue to make a difference. Abigail Heffernan, a Grade 11 student at PECI, will be the guest speaker at this year’s Relay to share her story about learning she had leukemia in Grade 9.

Former student Sarah Reddick also had full support of the community and her school when she battled cancer while attending PECI.

She is now a student at Queen’s University – home of a world renowned research institute that isn’t funded by the government, according to Rutgers.

“It’s funded by the money that we raise, and is bringing us closer to a cure for many types of cancer. It helps treatment move forward,” said Rutgers. “It’s also important for people to know you can actually specify which area of cancer research you’d like your donated or fundraised money to go to.”

In just Prince Edward County alone, Relay has raised more than one million dollars since it began eight years ago. Rutgers and McGinnis agree it comes down to the support of the community.

“I think at the end of the night, participants really feel a sense of, ‘I fought this fight, I will continue to fight this fight,’ and it’s not just the survivor. It’s their families or caregivers, too. This County is hit hard with cancer,” said Rutgers. “But we are seeing less and less people getting involved with Relay, less and less teams. It’s breaking our hearts because every month I meet with a group of passionate volunteers who want to make it the best event possible.”

This year, participants will also remember 23-year-old Katie Shannon who died last month after a valiant battle with cancer. The PECI graduate had participated in Relay for many years and shared her story with participants two years ago.

“I am overwhelmed with the kind hearts in Prince Edward County,” she said, thanking all for what they do for cancer research. “We continue to learn more about both preventative and reactive measures… Never quit the fight,” Shannon said in her message.

“Hearing about Katie’s passing recently brings light to the fact that we need to do more,” said McGinnis. “How sad and heartbreaking it is for Jeanette and Michael to lose their daughter. It just makes those of us who are passionate even more fierce about the fight. We need everyone’s help.”

Those who want to join, or support the fight, can register for the event, or support a team by visiting

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