Thursday, 30 June 2011

Celebrate ~ Remember ~ Fight Back

Last weekend I headed off to Ducketts Grove, Co. Carlow for Relay for Life. A 24 hour community celebration  that raises funds for the Irish Cancer Society. 
Why we Relay..

The heart of Relay for Life is its moto 'Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back. Celebrate means to celebrate life, family and the fact that many people are living longer with cancer and many more are beating it altogeher. Remember means remembering those loved ones who have lost their battle with cancer but are always by our sides and in our minds. Fight Back is perhaps the most important. Relay is a community coming together and saying we are not going to give up, we are going to fight cancer and we are going to beat it and live in a world where less and less people have to hear the words 'you have cancer'.

Why we raise the money...
I was asked to get involved with Relay by one of my college lecturers who has twice battled and twice beaten cancer. So why did I say yes and chose to join the fight? Because like most of you, I know someone who has had cancer. Actually I know far to many people who have been touched by cancer. My mum fought breast cancer and won. Her sister, my aunt, had breast cancer around the same time and she to made a full recovery. Most recently we lost my uncle to bowel cancer. He was a very quiet, lovely man who was very well liked and respected in the community. We often think that perhaps if he had gone to the doctor earlier....but how many men do we know who say those words 'Ah I'll be grand'. In most cases they are, in some they are not. I relay to celebrate my mum and aunt, I relay to remember my uncle and I relay to fight back and help get rid of cancer for good.
My mum enjoying Relay - a wonderful lady and my hero.

Last year' in Ireland there were 30,000 new cases of cancer. That's 30,000 people who had to hear the words 'you have cancer'. That means 30,000 sets of family and friends had to hear that devastating words. Thats just to many.
The teams on their first lap.
In Carlow this year we had a whopping 26 teams of people who each fundraised before the event and then at the event set up a tent and did something fun to fund raise for the 24 hours. They also took it in turns to walk the relay track for the entire 24 hours.  This year we also had a relay torch that lit the way for the entire 24 hours. Some of the fundraisers were things like food stalls, sweet stalls, , (selling slushies and candyfloss), a hairdresser to tidy us up after the rain and wind that plagued us on Saturday, sports day games, boobie buns (pink ices buns with cherries on top!!) and a hammock to chill out on for a donation. 
One of the super tents on site.
We had demonstrations from the local karate groups, we had some of the finest musical talent in Carlow grace the stage and we had the talented team members battle it out in 'Relays got Talent'.
Relays got Talent contestant!

So how does the 24 hours go....Relay begins with a survivors lap. A survivor is anyone who has ever been told 'you have cancer'. This year we had over 50 survivors at Relay. They each wear a purple t-shirt. They are of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Its just goes to show that cancer doesn't care who you are or where you are from. The survivors lead off Relay as it is them who give inspiration to others undergoing treatment. They are an amazing group with smiles on all their faces. Some are a little shy but I know everyone including myself is so proud of them for not being afraid to take part. Some of the survivors are still undergoing treatment.
Survivors on their lap.
The next lap is the caregiver lap. This is for everyone who had ever cared for a survivor, or even lent a shoulder to cry on for a family member or friend of someone who lost their cancer battle. Everyone clapped and cheered in appreciation of what these amazing people do.

The team mission banner
As night falls over Ducketts Grove the most emotional part of Relay begins. The luminaria ceremony. This is when the lights are all turned out and the track is lit by candles, this year 1400. Each candle sits in a little bag with a message on it. Some are messages of, remembrance, some of celebration and some of thanks and hope. At the ceremony there were about 600 people. Once the candle ceremony started there was pure silence. All that could be heard was the crunch of the gravel underfoot and the odd sniffle as people thought about the loved ones they have lost. The candles symbolise the hope family and friends of someone battling cancer can bring. Things may sometimes seem dark but there is always someone there to help and light the way.
A little piece of the track lit up.

A simple message...

Dawn broke with a 6am Zumba class. The teacher, god bless her, was full of energy, it took a little bit of effort to get our relayers going though. The rest of Sunday passed with more fun laps, fun and games and a very brave lad who started the trend of dong crazy things to your hair for a donation. I said to him I would get €50 donated if he got a pink mohawk...I went around with a bucket and had over €70 in less then five minutes. People are so generous and even more so when someone is willing to do something silly for the donation!
A relay sweet shop...a treat now and again is good!
On Sunday afternoon the people of Carlow showed up in force to support Relay. We just did not expect the thousands of people that turned up. It was just great. Everyone coming and going commented on how great the event. What I found really special was how complete strangers came up to us and started sharing there own very personal cancer stories. Relay seems to do that to people and I think they feel it helps.

We finished the 24 hours with a final team lap and a balloon release. There were different colour balloons all representing different kinds of cancers. Perhaps its a bit of tiredness kicking in after being on the go since 8am the previous morning but I know I'm not the only one who found this quite emotional as well.
The local firemen in Carlow presenting Relay with a cheque
Relay is for any age!
This year we also had a sister Relay in Elmhurst, Illinois. They relayed over the same 24 hours we did. It just shows that though we are miles apart, cancer is a worldwide issue and so is the fight.

To date through the hard work of the committee, teams, their friends and families and the general Carlow community we have banked over €33,000 for The Irish Cancer Society. Truly amazing!!!
Susan (r) and me (l) with Jedward!!!

As its my blog I'm going to finish this post by thanking all the teams who took part. Its a privilege to get to know you and work with you guys. You stories are inspirational and the effort you all put into Relay is above and beyond!
To the committee  you guys are all amazing and consider myself lucky to count you among my friends.
Also a big thanks to Kevin, our staff partner from the ICS, Thanks for helping us bring Relay for Life to life in Carlow.
Cathy, me, Ger and Susan..a few of the committee
 Relay for Life is happening in communities all around Ireland this Summer. Nenagh, Ballinasloe and Dundalk are all joining in the fight. The Irish Cancer Society run a really great helpline and also have a super website. If at any stage you or someone you know gets the awful diagnosis, help, information and reassurance is just a phone call or click away. 

If you have any Relay stories we would love to hear them so leave your comments below. Should you wish to get involved next year or would like to see some more snaps or get more info see our Facebook page

This is just a little bit of what goes on over the 24 hours! I hope you enjoyed the read...

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