As walkers at the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life prepared to hit the trail in West Stettler Park, organizers reminded each of them to think of the reason they walk.
“Keep that reason in your heart tonight,” said relay committee chair Crystal Schierman.
For each walker, the reasons are different. But relay committee member Lynn Sabo identified three major goals behind the event: to celebrate the survivors, remember the lost, and join the patients who continue to fight.
The relay kicked off on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 12, marking its sixth year in Stettler with some major changes.
Instead of an all-night relay, organizers shortened the event to six hours in response to a decreased number of teams and walkers, and moved it from its traditional location on the high school track to West Stettler Park.
“Our participation was down a little bit,” said Schierman, a leukemia survivor. “We thought we’d switch it up and try something new.”
There were eight teams and 30 participants registered for this year’s relay, with more than 30 cancer survivors — identified by their bright yellow shirts — joining in for the survivors lap.
The total amount raised was $7,888.05, Schierman reported the following Monday.
Sabo said that while the number of participants had declined, “the spirit of those attending hasn’t diminished at all.”
Another factor that didn’t change over previous years was the weather, which alternated between a light drizzle and heavier showers until late in the evening.
“We’ll just keeping going anyways,” said Schierman, adding later, “We were very happy with the turnout considering the weather.”
A barbecue was served by the Rotary Club with food donated by the club and CanAlta, while a specially- designed cake was provided by Today’s Sweet Cakery from Castor.
Face painting and other entertainment were provided for children, while the Stettler school band, featuring middle and high school students, performed “O Canada” to begin the relay.
Later in the evening, attendees were treated to musical performances by Intense Reality and by Eugene Gustafson of the BlonDonnas.
Tanya Paul, a community development co-ordinator for the Cancer Society in Red Deer, spoke to the crowd during the opening ceremony, highlighting the increased rates of skin cancer and the risk associated with tanning beds.
Paul cited statistics indicating that people using indoor tanning equipment before age 35 have a 59 per cent higher risk of developing melanoma.
She urged those present to contact the provincial health ministry to request action from the government, such as stronger regulation on indoor tanning and a total ban on its use by people under the age of 18.
The ceremony also highlighted how cancer research has greatly increased the chances of survival. Cancer patients today have a survival rate of 60 per cent, up from 25 per cent during the 1940s.
Lining the track in West Stettler Park were luminaries, small battery-operated candles that are lit after dark, each one labeled in honour of survivors and those lost to cancer.
The community’s survivors were front and centre during the first lap of the relay, including Andrea DeYoung, a five-year survivor of breast cancer.
Diagnosed at age 39 with two small children at home, DeYoung underwent a unilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and continues with medication today.
“It’s really, really an up-and- down process,” said DeYoung, who added that she’s since become an advocate for cancer awareness, particularly for breast cancer among younger women.
She helped organize the Stettler relay in past years, including serving as co-chair in 2011 and chair in 2012, and last year she was recognized by the Cancer Society as one of its Global Heroes of Hope.
DeYoung said each year she looks forward to seeing her fellow survivors, volunteers and supporters, and watching them join forces to continue the fight.
“We’ve all been touched by cancer,” she said. “The whole community comes together for one purpose.”