Relay for Life
Between the hectic and rather hefty schedule of this month’s calendar, eighty-one Brentwood students still found time last Saturday to participate in one of the most inspiring and informative charity events of the year: Relay for Life. Located at the Cowichan Sportsplex in Duncan, students donned their iPods and running shoes to run, walk, and witness an inspirational night that serves to raise awareness and fundraise to fight against cancer. Led by SPARC and Mrs. Felix, students had registered for the event in late April, and had been tirelessly raising funds through car washes, barbecues, and bottle drives.
This remarkable event, which is well known in the school for being memorable and moving, is held across the nation. In each location the 12 hour relay makes time to celebrate those who are successfully conquering or have defeated cancer, to remember those who have lost their battle, and fight back against it with the goal of eradicating cancer. Through ceremony, song, and beautiful luminaries that dot the track and guide individuals as they experience the circle of life by they symbolically loop round and round the athletic track, Relay for Life reminds us that we are not alone as we watch loved ones struggle against a degrading disease, that we are strong when we unite together, and that life is a wonderful gift.
I was recently told by a family friend going through her own battle with breast cancer that one’s perspective on life is changed completely when one is diagnosed with cancer. With this change comes a greater yearning to accept and embrace all that graces our path in life, even if that life is considerably shortened.
Last January the reality of my entire family was distorted when we discovered my aunt had been diagnosed with cancer originating from an unknown source. When the source of the cancer cannot be detected, it cannot be stopped, and the cancer cells continue to grow. Unlike most cells, cancer cells do not have the gene for contact inhibition, which causes cells to stop growing when it touches another cell. Instead they grow in abundance, which causes large tumours as the foreign cells flow through the lymphatic system and settle in glands.
My aunt developed tumours in her legs, and due to the unavailability of treatment in Canada, she had to go down to the United States so she could receive regular treatment that was necessary to keep the cancer at bay: most people who are diagnosed with cancer where I’m from have to go down south because of the inefficiency of the health care system. Through regular treatments at the Eisenhower clinic in California, the cancer began to retreat, but they were still unable to find the source of the cancer.
Chemotherapy is not known for being a gentle treatment (the treatment cannot distinguish between cancer cells and white blood cells, weakening the immune system), and my aunt soon became a stereotypical cancer patient: a once physically strong woman became a small, delicate skeleton; her hair had ceased to grow (though her wig “Jackie” brought all the flair to each and every gathering); she monitored her diet religiously, eating the healthiest food she could find and taking supplements and vitamins with each meal. Even with this healthier lifestyle, my aunt was still struggling to replenish her body tissues damaged by chemotherapy, and had to spend time in Mexico receiving stem cell treatment. As there is still controversy concerning embryonic stem cell treatment, it is not yet legal in Canada or the United States.
This treatment was a life-saver, and gave her the strength to get back into a somewhat regular lifestyle, and allowed her to come back home to Canada. Unfortunately, the Canadian healthcare system would not fill her prescription for her medication which had been supplied to her by the pharmaceutical company for free for a whole year. My aunt is now in Houston, over 3,000 kilometers from home, trying to stay one step ahead of the cancer that poisons her body, keeping those who matter most closest to her in what could be the last years of her life. I have been amazed by her courage, her resilience, and her huge heart throughout this journey.
This is why I support the Relay for Life, because women like my aunt cannot go through something so devastating and exhausting only to lose because the healthcare is not available to them in their own country. Cancer research should be a high priority in a country where, on average, 500 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer every day, and 200 will die every day.
The fact that students my age, who want to be doctors, nurses and scientists, were so inspired by the testimonies and stories of cancer at the Relay for Life that they left the event with an urge to make a difference, gives me hope. The hope that someday my aunt can come back to her family who have dedicated themselves to helping her in every way possible, and live her life in comfort after the pain she has endured. I hope that no one will have to ever suffer as she has, and that one day, cancer will be history.
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