Participants pose for a picture at the end of the event. Image: Justin Ye

Cancer accounts for nearly a third of all deaths in Canada, making it the leading cause of death by far. Nearly one in two Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life; these diagnoses can devastate not only the victims but their loved ones as well. The Canadian Cancer Society, which raises nearly $150 million to help fund research and support cancer victims every year, is one of the frontrunners in the battle against cancer. Its signature fundraising event is Relay For Life, the largest non-profit event across Canada with roughly 110 000 participants across the country each year.

3 May 2019 marked the first time in the last five years that Garneau has held a Relay For Life eventit was previously discontinued due to a lack of spirit and participation. This year, the event was revived with a new executive team and approach, and had a great turnout with nineteen registered teams, each with eight to ten people for a total of 177 members.

The day was organized by the Relay For Life executive team, which consists of eight members: Sadia Akbar, Aiman Altaf, Waleed Khalid, Ryan Li, Laura Lu, Evan Woo, Wendi Zhang, and Eric Zhao. The team was headed by Laura Lu and Wendi Zhang, who were the first to propose reviving Relay For Life at MGCI after seeing pictures on social media of Relay at other schools. Applications for executive positions were opened in late November 2018, and the team was finalized in early December 2018. The execs chosen each had their own reason for joining the fight against cancer. “Relay means so much more than just a single day event to me. To me, Relay is more of a spirit and culture,” said Waleed. He added, “I lost my aunt recently and I hope to do anything I can to remember her name and make sure others don’t have to suffer.”  In the months leading up to Relay, the executive team ran a series of promotions in order to garner interest among the student body. It was promoted on Instagram and Facebook, as well as through posters and announcements. The execs also reached out to students at the March pep rally and participated in SAC’s Unhealthy Food Sale.

Prior to the event, all Relay For Life participants were required to fundraise at least $50, though many donated more. Larissa Long, a member of the team UCC1, was commended for raising the greatest amount of money, having raised an astounding $538. In total, MGCI raised roughly $7720, exceeding the initial fundraising goal of $7500. The money was raised through many different methods. Teams participated in the Relay For Life food sale on 18 April 2019, with each team raising upwards of $80 in sales. Many members also participated in the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Campaign, selling daffodil pins outside of school.

Relay For Life kicked off at around 2:30 pm with its opening ceremony in the cafeteria. Rayyan Esmail, a cancer survivor and MGCI student, spoke at the ceremony. After being diagnosed with cancer in November 2017, he was forced to take a year off from school to undergo treatment, which entailed numerous blood transfusions and daily chemotherapy. Fortunately, his treatment was successful and he has since returned to MGCI to continue his studies.

Following the ceremony, Rayyan led everyone out to the back field to complete the opening victory lapthe first lap of the event. The victory lap serves as a symbol of the progress made in the battle against cancer. Though everyone ran the opening victory lap, teams were only required to have one person on the track during the rest of the event.

Participants run on the track to gain points for their teams. Image: Justin Ye

The remaining participants were divided into four colour groups, who, in the next three hours, rotated through the back field, gym, and cafeteria to take part in various activities such as coming up with a team cheer, tug of war, human scrabble, an obstacle course, and mummy wrapping. One of the rotations was a break, where participants had the opportunity to buy food from the Indian street food and funnel cake food trucks, buy snacks like bubble tea and chips from the food booth, get their face painted, take colorful pictures at a photo booth, visit Member of Parliament (MP) Rob Oliphant’s booth, request songs at the song request station, play frisbee or soccer on the field, or do laps around the track. Teams collected points throughout the day for showing spirit, winning activities, and doing laps.

Students playing human scrabble on the back field. Image: Justin Ye.

At about 6:15 pm all Relay For Life participants gathered in the back field again to run the final lap and take a group photograph. Dinner was served shortly after and lasted until around 7:20 pm. Participants who had signed up through a Google Form before the event received free pizza.  Following dinner, the closing ceremony commenced. It featured a speech from Rob Oliphant, who spoke to his experience as a two-time cancer survivor, and his appreciation of the Canadian Cancer Society, whose support saved his life over three decades ago. His speech was met with loud applause from Relay participants, but the noise soon died down with the start of the Luminary Ceremony.

The Luminary Ceremony is a solemn ceremony to honour and remember loved ones who have fallen victim to cancer. Prior to the ceremony, participants were asked to write their answer to the prompt “I relay for…” on white paper bags. These bags were placed around the sides of the cafeteria, each illuminated by a tea light. During the ceremony, the cafeteria lights were turned off and students walked around the cafeteria to read all the luminaries. Kausika Muthulingam, a member of the team M16, stated that the Luminary Ceremony was “a time aside from the fun and games to really think about all of the people in our lives that have fought through the struggles of cancer,” and a chance to reflect upon how “lucky [we are] to still be here today, honouring them.”

The remainder of the closing ceremony was comparatively lighthearted. Videos of participants explaining why they chose to participate in Relay For Life, as well as a video containing photographs taken during the event by volunteers, were shown. Members of the team who had collected the most points, Cancer Crushers, were each awarded $15 McDonald’s gift cards. They were followed by teams Austin’s Support Circle and Remission Accomplished in second and third place respectively. Larissa was also awarded a $50 McDonald’s gift card for fundraising the most money. The Relay For Life executive team then thanked the sponsors and staff who made hosting the event possible. The event concluded with everyone turning on their phone’s flashlight and holding it up in the air if they believed that they had made a difference that day in the fight against cancer.

Garneau’s first Relay For Life event in five years received positive feedback overall and had an amazing turnout, making it a huge success. “It brought me a lot of joy seeing everyone smile, have fun, eat and sweat,” said Waleed. With the success of this Relay event, it is almost certain that Garneau will continue to organize these events in future years; Waleed mentioned that he hopes that next year, a designated Relay For Life rally and more fundraising opportunities will be organized, and that more students will join the fight against cancer. Ave Thomson, a member of the team UCC1, had similar views, stating, “Next year, above all things, I’d just like to see more of us out there. Over and over, we’re told that cancer affects us all one way or another, and that’s because it’s true. And it sucks, bigtime… but that’s all the more reason to believe that this is exactly why we should all be trying to make a difference out there. Imagine if every single one of us took the initiative to do something, even the smallest of actions, to allow us to help those impacted by cancer all over the world.”