AMHERST – While more people are beating cancer every year thanks to the money raised at the Relay for Life, Wendy Wells said there are many reasons to keep raising money to fight a dreaded disease that took a close friend of hers just a few weeks ago.
Wells, who is captain of the Painted Ladies’ relay team, is a cancer survivor herself having beaten endometrial cancer several years ago. She also lost her mother to cancer and is finding it hard to deal with the recent death of her close friend, former Cyrus Eaton Elementary principal Curtis Shanks.
“Sadly, we continue to be losing people every year to this disease and we have to keep fighting,” Wells said Saturday during the 15th Relay for Life event in Amherst. “Some of the people that started with us aren’t here anymore.
“As tough as it is we have to keep fighting. We know there’s a cure out there and we’re continuing to look for it. That’s why this relay is so important.”
The Amherst relay featured 12 teams and raised in excess of $53,000.
The Painted Ladies got their name from the science projects Wells used to do with her students, hatching painted ladies butterflies. When she got sick, her friends and co-workers, came together and created the Relay for Life team that has raised more than $50,000 in eight years.
This year, the team was the top fundraiser, raising more than $10,000. She said the amount is a tribute to Shanks and all those who’ve lost someone to cancer or are presently fighting the disease.
“He was our friend and our boss and we miss him so much. It’s still so hard to believe he’s no longer with us,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes to put on this yellow shirt, considering the people we’ve lost and the battles we’ve all faced ourselves, but you listen to Daren White and see all the stories of the survivors and you know you have to keep fighting.”
Rev. Jonathan Cole was diagnosed with cancerous brain tumour in January 2013 and given approximately 15 months to live. After brain surgery, 30 radiation treatments and 367 chemo treatments his tumour disappeared.
Cole, whose team the Overcomers has become a staple at the Amherst relay, said he immediately envisioned his brain without cancer and placed his faith in God. His last MRI in February was completely clear – something that’s rare with this type of cancer.
He said Relay for Life is a tremendous networking opportunity that helps those fighting cancer and their families – especially those who may just be starting their cancer journey.
“The connections you make and the support you feel makes you understand that you’re not alone in your fight,” Cole said. “We need one another. You need the support network when you’re in a fight like this.”
Daren White, a two-time cancer survivor himself, couldn’t help but think of his cousin,Ed Gogan, during this year’s relay. Gogan was a familiar face at the relay every year setting up his table and offering McDonald’s coffee, tea and snacks to participants.
Only a few weeks before last year’s event Gogan was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away last August.
White remembers him stopping long enough at last year’s event to get his yellow shirt and then going back to work serving others – something he has done his entire life.
Around the same time Ed was diagnosed, his sister was diagnosed with the same cancer and she is continuing her fight.
He said he will stop fighting cancer when it stops stealing family members, friends and other loved ones.
Organizing committee chair Laura Farrow is pleased with the results of this year’s event.
“It went extremely well. The teams that participated did an amazing job,” she said. “We’re thrilled with the amount raised, which was an increase over last year. Everyone worked very hard and we’re thrilled with their commitment.”
She said it was a very difficult year in the community and the committee also found it hard after the passing of former committee member and Canadian Cancer Society district representative Amanda Allaby last fall.
“It was difficult year for everybody but we all stuck together and rallied around each other and because of that we were almost stronger and it did make a difference,” Farrow said. “There have been advancements, but there are still far too many that we lose to the disease.”