Estevan's Relay for Life June 9 and 10 at the Civic Auditorium offered moments of poignant reflection and jubilant celebration, along with entertainment, laughter and a united vow to continue the fight against cancer.
Eleven teams and about 150 participants were involved in this year's Relay. They walked around a makeshift track on the Civic's floor between 7 p.m. on June 9 and 7 a.m. on June 10.
A total of $60,758 was raised for the Canadian Cancer Society during Estevan's Relay.
"Estevan does still care about the Relay for Life, they are still very much interested in it, and team spirit was definitely high this year," said event chair Patrick Fisher.
While the number of teams and participants was down this year, the average amount brought in per team was up. "Team Olfey – Who Needs Two?" was the top fundraising squad; they brought in more than $13,000.
"I think every team aside from one – which would have been my team that had only two people – got a bronze award or higher," said Fisher. "A bronze award is $2,500."
All of the teams did a fantastic job of raising money, he said, and that's a big reason why Estevan's Relay cleared the $60,000 mark.
Most teams have indicated they want to be back next year, Fisher said, so he's optimistic that there will be more teams next year.
Approximately 100 volunteers helped out before, during and after the Relay.
Estevan's Relay started with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Several people, including Fisher, discussed the Relay's impact.
"Look around you," Fisher said. "Family, friends, co-workers, business and community leaders, children, grandparents and neighbours are all here for the same reason: to put an end to cancer."
Relay's 12 hours are a life-changing journey, he told the audience.
"Isn't it amazing to think what an international movement this is to end this disease," said Fisher. "We're here in Estevan tonight, doing what other Relayers do in almost 500 events across Canada, and 5,200 events around the world, in over 20 countries."
Everybody in the Relay has a different reason for being at the event, but Fisher believes they have common goals of showing support for cancer patients, remembering those who have passed on due to cancer, and fighting back against the disease. They all want to see the day when cancer is vanquished.
Catherine Moore from the Canadian Cancer Society's office in Toronto also spoke at the opening ceremonies. She said she has heard many great things about Estevan's Relay, and she wanted to witness the reasons for Estevan's success.
"The Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life has a huge impact," said Moore. "We are saving more lives through Relay for Life."
Ninety per cent of every dollar raised in Saskatchewan stays in the province, she said. The money goes towards researching and preventing cancer; influencing public policy to ensure that people receive better cancer care; supporting cancer patients, along with their friends and family; and engaging and rallying people to be involved in the fight against the disease.
Other speakers during the opening ceremonies were Marilyn Coates, Brent Olfert and Mary Antonenko. Coates was this year's honourary event co-chair. She chronicled her battle with Stage 4 melanoma in 1999 and 2000, the pride she has as a cancer survivor, and the need for people to use sunscreen when exposed to the sun.
Olfert is also a cancer survivor. He works at Apex Distribution, which was this year's event sponsor. Olfert discussed why Apex decided to offer so much support to the Relay.
Antonenko was a member of the survivor committee, and she discussed why it's important to honour cancer survivors.
The opening survivor laps followed the speeches. More than 40 cancer survivors – each one sporting bright yellow t-shirts – walked a victory lap together. Caregivers joined them for the second lap. Relay participants were on the track for the third lap.
A moving luminary ceremony was held at 10 p.m. All Relay participants and volunteers paused to remember those who have perished due to cancer, or are still in the midst of the cancer fight.
"The luminary ceremony was fantastic," said Fisher. "I know I had a lot of comments from teams, volunteers and committee members, saying that this year's luminary ceremony hit them considerably harder than it did last year.
"The speaker (Pastor Fred Hoehnle) did a fantastic job of … conveying his experience, making it hit home and showing all of the emotional ranges you go through when you get hit with that diagnosis, and all the effects that it creates on you and your family."
After the luminary ceremony, the ceiling lights at the Civic were shut off for several hours, simulating the darkness experienced during the overnight hours of an outdoor Relay. It also symbolizes the darkness a cancer patient can experience.
There were lighter moments during the Relay, too. Entertainment happened throughout the night, as local performers sang and danced while the participants walked. The annual Mr. Relay contest offered a lot of laughs after midnight.
Fisher and Estevan Shoppers Mall manager Mike Pickering – who comprised the Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow team – raised $1,000 to shave their heads. The duo had a challenge, and when Fisher raised less money – $100 compared with Pickering's $800 – Fisher's head was shaved. Pickering decided to shave his head, too, after he brought in another $100.
Estevan Comprehensive School Grade 11 student Levi Wheeler raised $600 to have his head shaved in a separate challenge. Wheeler was able to donate some of his hair to Locks of Love, which creates wigs for children with cancer.
A live auction brought in nearly $3,000 for the Relay.
The fight back ceremony and the closing ceremonies brought the Relay to a close. Fisher discussed the need to prevent young people from using suntanning beds. He also explained the value of sunscreen for youths.
"People don't realize the effect that artificial suntanning has on your body, or how bad the sun affects your body when you're outside," said Fisher.
Fisher said a wrap-up meeting was to be held on June 12 to discuss this year's Relay. The committee will look at ways they can increase the number of teams, and any other changes that need to happen. They'll also discuss the positives from this year's event.