Several Marc Garneau students along with Mr. Persaud began their day early on 25 February, as they took a school bus to attend a Relay For Life Conference in Cobourg, Ontario.

The Relay For Life Conference, hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), was held for the dual purposes of promoting Relay For Life and raising cancer awareness. The Relay for Life event, held annually in over twenty countries and over five hundred communities in Canada alone, initially began in 1999 and raised $85 000. Since then, Relay has managed to raise over $496.5 million across Canada.

Though the CCS has managed to raise such a large amount, many people are still unaware of how widespread of an effect cancer can have and how even a small donation could potentially save a life. It may not be a well-known fact that cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada. Despite the CCS investing $46 million in the past year for cancer research, it is expected that the number of cancer cases will increase by around 60% over the next twenty years.

It is important for people to understand cancer to fight it and to understand Relay for Life to participate in it. So the question remains: What is it?

Relay For Life is a 12-hour fundraising event organized by students and volunteers within a community to support initiatives towards conquering cancer. Fun yet inspirational, it exemplifies the life that is so precious and yet so vulnerable.

Essentially, people of all ages – ranging from children to the elderly – can participate in groups of at least ten and are expected to take turns walking laps to symbolize the determination to defeat cancer. Team members not walking a lap can participate in other events that are being held simultaneously, such as games.

Relay for Life is a symbol of the journey of one dealing with cancer. It represents their hardships, their long nights, and their lengthy fight. As the CCS says, “Cancer never sleeps, so neither do we.”1 It allows people to show that those fighting cancer are not alone. It embodies the spirit of humanity. It embodies our willpower and our determination. It embodies our fight.

Mary Getachew, an MGCI senior who attended the Conference, said: “I believe this event is how we can remind everyone, and tell those who maybe weren’t aware, that this is our world, our time, and most definitely, our opportunity as the people of tomorrow to stand and fight. Relay for Life really does bring out the fighters in all of us.”

The Relay For Life Conference is the first step. Attended by students from eleven schools around Ontario, the Cobourg Conference was inspiring for many.

Dorothy Qian, a Grade 10 MGCI student, said that “the speakers were all really inspirational, and we all came back more motivated to help an amazing cause. It inspired me to know that so many students gathered to help one cause – to fight cancer – that affects the lives of so many.”

The inspiration was in part due to the mini luminary ceremony held at the Conference that is usually a major component of Relay For Life. “The depth of raw emotion in the luminary ceremony was something else. There’s something about feeling so vulnerable in a room full of strangers, each as vulnerable as you, that brings a sense of incredible unity,” said Mary.

The luminary ceremony, in which a candle is placed inside each personalized luminary bag, is intense, emotional, and moving. It is not only meant to commemorate lost loved ones, but is also used to ignite hope – light – in the hearts of the defeated.

Burt Munro, who has been a part of Relay For Life since 2005, has single-handedly raised over $162 000. Having had cancer himself, his inspiration was not his own vulnerability but the fact that while receiving treatment he had seen an eight year old boy – who was weak from receiving chemotherapy – offer an older woman his chair.

While cancer will always be a possibility, it is not indestructible. Henry He, the president of the MGCI Cancer Society, had a lot to say. “This all comes down to saving lives for me. If the work we do can educate and help people, then it’s more than worth it. The money we raise goes into treatment transportation, information services, and a peer mentor network, which directly help people and save lives. If you think about it like that, it has the most meaning,” he said.

Marc Garneau CI will be hosting its own Relay for Life. Currently, the event is expected to be held on 25 April 2014, organized by a small group of students from the MGCI Cancer Society. Dorothy said, “everyone, in one way or another, is affected by cancer. So organizing these events creates a support system and unifies those living in our neighbourhood. Also, it raises awareness about cancer and motivates everyone to fight back.”

Kainat Amir, a senior student who attended the Conference, said that “Relay for Life inspires people in endless ways. It makes us realize not to take good health for granted. Not to take life for granted. Cancer can happen to anyone, anytime – like it was said at the conference, ‘Cancer doesn’t discriminate.’ Relay also brings together like-minded people who are passionate about making a change. They stand together to remember those they’ve lost, to celebrate the survivors, and to fight cancer. ”

This is our chance to make a difference.

Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.1

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