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Canadian Cancer Society relays from home



by Sylene Argent - Photos submitted

Every year, the Canadian Cancer Society brings together community members who have been touched by cancer in some way to celebrate survivors, remember those who have passed on, and raise funds for research through the annual Relay for Life events held across the nation.

  With COVID-19 restrictions limiting social gatherings this year, the Canadian Cancer Society instead hosted a nationwide Relay from Home event on Saturday evening, with hope to still capture the atmosphere of the regular event, while still raising funds for the cause.

  While the annual Relay for Life event typically takes place over a 12-hour period, Relay from Home offered a two-hour online event, that encouraged team members to host fun activities from their own home. The livestream included an opening ceremony, the history of Relay for Life, a survivor ceremony, team activities, a luminary ceremony, and live entertainment from Canadian artists Brett Kissel, Paul Langlois from The Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett, The Reklaws, Peter Katz, Virginia to Vegas, and versaCello.

  Mindy Glover and Mandy Stein are the volunteer Co-Chairpersons for the Windsor-Essex Relay for Life event, which takes place annually.

  Glover said when COVID-19 hit and they were informed the in-person event would not take place this year, nobody knew what was going to happen. “We weren’t given a solution or alternate event information, because even National didn’t know. There was just so much uncertainty.”

  She said they didn’t want the event to get cancelled, so they were pleased to learn about the online, Relay from Home, alternative. “COVID-19 is very much different and separate from cancer. Cancer is still happening. Patients still need treatment; people are still being diagnosed. Education work still needs to be done. We still need those funds to support that research and for those treatments,” she said, adding the area is lucky to have a research lab, operated by Dr. Lisa Porter, at the University of Windsor.    

  When the online Relay from Home idea was launched, the individual Relay for Life committees, from across Canada, were tasked to find a way to tailor the national event to their community through using social media to give it a local flair.

  The local Relay for Life committee planned a social media calendar that spanned over a month. For instance, there was Mission Monday, Team Tuesday, Warrior Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, and Friends of Relay Friday. During these days, they would feature local partners to engage the community. The weekends were used to announce activities or contests.

  During the week leading up to Relay from home, they structured their outreach to included themed days, designed after the various parts of the 12-hour annual event. This included a Zumba workout, a tribute to survivors, a bagpipe performance, and an explanation about the luminary ceremony, which recognizes those who have passed. Glover said it was done in a way to trigger the same emotions as the in-person event. 

“That was kind of how our role as committee members shifted. Instead of planning and facilitating this 12-hour, in-person event, we now had to still try to keep up some of the momentum and excitement, while everyone is at home, while also making this experience unique,” Glover said, adding it was also important to keep sponsors and participants interested for the future, with the hope the event could take place in-person in 2021.

  It was free to register for Relay at Home, and it was a great way to attract new participants, especially the younger audience members, Glover said.

  The annual Relay for Life event, Glover said, is a multifaceted event that remembers those who have passed, celebrates survivors, and creates hopes for those living with cancer.

  “It is like a rollercoaster of emotion. We always try to keep it relatively positive, while honouring the memory of people who passed, because we always want there to be hope. And, we want people to remember that the reason we all come together is because we all have hope. There is nothing more powerful than hope, especially when a bunch of people come together with a common goal, and hope for a cure, or hope for a better treatment, or a better prognosis for all of us,” Glover commented.

  Glover got involved with Relay for Life because the summer before she started grade 12, her cousin, who was the same age, starts with brain cancer. She ended up having a stroke the day before school began, and never came out of a coma. She said that experience was “a huge wake-up call.” She wanted to do what she could to prevent that from happening to someone else.  

  According to the Relay for Life website, the nationwide Relay from Home event raised $4,234,683, and the website will continue to collect donations until August 13. Last year’s Windsor-Essex County Relay for Life event raised $90,000. Donations were still accepted for thirty days after the event, which raised the total to $111,000.

  The interesting part of Relay for Life, Glover added, is that it funds all types of cancer. The funding goes into one pot, and then gets distributed to fund research, advocacy and education programs, and to raise further funds through programs, such as the Daffodil Campaign. Those funds also support Canadian Cancer Society programs, such as Wheels for Hope, which helps bring cancer patients to their treatment.

  The Relay from Home event can be viewed from the Canadian Cancer Society Facebook page.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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