After a decline in participation over the years, it looked as though this year's “Relay for Life” would be the last one here.
But it seems the possibility of no longer holding the annual cancer fundraiser fired up a few teams—and brought forth new volunteers for next year's committee.
“A lot of people said, 'Well, that's terrible,'” noted lead organizer Monica Sus.
“I had no volunteers two days ago, and now I have volunteers and they're all talking about next year,” she remarked.
This year's event was held Saturday afternoon at the new Rainy Lake Square, with participants walking up and down Scott Street between Mowat and Portage Avenue.
Anneda Chabot, a member of this year's “Relay for Life" committee, said a lot of people came forward Saturday offering their time and ideas to hopefully bring back the original "Relay for Life” activities.
“We've recruited enough [people] to start a whole new committee,” she noted.
Only five teams had signed up for this year's “Relay” but almost $18,000 was raised.
Sus said the money raised will go to the Canadian Cancer Society, with a portion staying here to help local patients.
More than half of this year's funds was raised by “Cancer Cougars,” whose team captain, Susie Stafford, currently is battling cancer.
Five years ago, Stafford wanted to raise $10,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. But over the years, she had not reached her fundraising goal.
This year, however, through pledges, donations, and a penny table, Stafford and the team met her $10,000 goal.
A handful of “Relay” participants also had their heads shaved Saturday, including Stafford's family.
The person who kicked off the head-shaving Saturday afternoon was 74-year-old Jacqueline Csik, who is celebrating her 30th year of surviving cancer.
She was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma back in 1988.
Over time, she had been involved in cancer treatment trials, such as nitrogen mustard and Tamoxifen, which both still are used in some form today.
“I used to be 5'6". "I'm five-foot [now] but you know what? I'm still here,” Csik said.
She added she wanted to have her head shaved to not only celebrate her 30th anniversary, but for her friends and family that also have been affected by the disease.
“I thought, 'It's time I did something,'” Csik reasoned.
After the head-shaving was finished, the “Relay for Life” opened, beginning with the survivors' Victory Lap.
Bev McCoy, whose team “Wings of Hope” raised more than $3,000, said they walk in memory of the people they knew either fought cancer or currently is fighting it.
“This is the one way we can support them," she noted. "It just something that we feel we need to do because we can't to anything else.”
The team is hopeful the event will return next year.
“Oldie Goldies" member Josie Schill said she and her husband, Luke, walk because they are both cancer survivors and she "believe[s] in supporting cancer research.”
“I just believe in the program," she remarked. "Since we both had cancer, it has really touched us.”
Schill also makes jam, which she sold at this year's event, with all of the proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society.
“'Relay for Life' is an amazing event," echoed "Cancer Cougars” team member Heather Gunderson-Wensley.
“People are so generous . . . and the money is going to a great cause that hopefully, one day, there will be something that people don't have to suffer and there will be a cure,” she added.
As far as this perhaps being the last year of “Relay for Life” here, Gunderson-Wensley said she understands how tough it can be to plan the event every year.
But she added the “Relay” means so much to the team—and so many others.
“We have three people on our team who have joined the committee to help it go for next year,” Gunderson-Wensley noted.
“I hope it doesn't fold. It would be a shame.”