AMHERST, N.S. – Fighting cancer is a family affair for Dawn Wells.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, Wells and her sister Penny Miller, also a cancer survivor, put together a winning team for the 2019 Relay for Life in Amherst. She credits her aunt for her inspiration.
“My aunt, Wendy Wells, is a cancer survivor, too. She’s a teacher. After her cancer diagnosis, she became involved with Relay for Life and began a team to raise money– that was her way of celebrating life and of giving back," Wells said.
"She was the inspiration behind me wanting to start a Relay for Life team. She has done this for several years and they have raised even more money in other years.”
This year, these two teams, both based out of the small community of Pugwash, were the top two pledging teams for the Amherst event, each raising almost $10,000. The team co-captained by Wells and Miller, Positive Vibes, raised $9,532.10. Her aunt’s team, Painted Ladies, were right behind them with $9,432.65.
Wells gives the credit to her large, hard-working team and the great support from the community and local businesses.
“I had a really large team – 27 or 28 people that officially registered – and worked really hard to raise money," she said.
“We had an online auction and auctioned new or gently used items which were donated by friends and team members. Local businesses also donated really great prizes.”
Even after the auction began, Wells received messages from individuals and businesses wanting to donate items to be auctioned.
Wells and her team also held a bake sale, did refundable trade-ins with the local bottle depot, sold luminaries and solicited pledges and online donations.
Wells’ battle with cancer began on December 20, 2017. After finding a “scary” lump in her breast early that morning, she was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 8, 2018. Surgery was completed on Jan. 18 and she was declared cancer free.
However, she had to follow up with what she calls her “healthy future chemo” beginning in March. In August, she began 19 rounds of radiation.
Her sister arrived from Toronto and drove her to the first 10 rounds of treatment. Miller had been diagnosed with cervical cancer years earlier.
“My sister fought cancer and won. She wanted to be there to help me as I was going through all this. I had such a great support system - my boyfriend, my parents and family, my friends and co-workers. Even people on Facebook reached out to me and sent messages. I felt like a local celebrity," Wells said.
She also didn't let cancer take over her life.
“I tried to carry on with life as normally as possible," she said. "I’m one of those people who gets up and I have to get my workout in. Even during chemo, I got up and I worked out every day I possibly could. The days right after chemo, I might take a day or two off. I didn’t let cancer and chemo control my life.”
Wells opted to go the “scarf route” after losing her hair. She notes that she tried to find the silver lining in every step.
“I just told myself it’s going to take no time to do my hair for several months. It’s pretty easy to wrap a scarf around your head and go. It’s hair. It’s going to grow back,” she said.
Keeping that positive attitude was key in her fight, she says.
“Being negative was never an option for me. I’m a planner, but you can’t plan for cancer to show up in your life. I always looked for the positives," she said.
"I knew it was going to be an attitude thing and if I went into with a poor me attitude, it wasn’t going to help me at all. A positive attitude was the biggest deal for me. There’s always a silver lining. There are so many things to be positive about – including the gift of life.”
Wells and her sister originally planned to begin a Relay for Life team in 2018, but the timing didn’t work out because of Wells’ continuing treatments. Now cancer-free, she decided 2019 was her year.