Relay for Life kicks off 2014 campaign

Jodi Schellenberg
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At this year’s Prince Albert Relay for Life, family and friends will remember Alan Vincent Hadley Louge.

Sharon Griffin, the guest speaker at the Relay for Life launch, spoke to the crowd not only about the importance of the relay, but also shared the story of Alan Vincent Hadley Louge, who died of leukemia when he was 21.

Alan Vincent Hadley Louge, died of leukemia when he was 21 years old, will be one of the many people remembered during the event.

This year his parents, Alan and Connie Louge, are the honorary chairs of the relay.

Since the Louges were unable to attend the Relay for Life launch on Wednesday at the Forestry Centre, Sharon Griffin not only read a statement from the family but shared a little bit of Little Al’s journey with those gathered.

“Little Al, as we called him, was my son’s best friend,” Griffin said.

He was diagnosed with leukemia on the May long weekend in 2011, underwent treatment during the summer and went to Seattle to receive a stem cell transplant in the fall.

“My son went to visit him in December and Little Al was optimistic and looking forward to coming home,” Griffin said. “Unfortunately he relapsed prior to reaching his 100-day mark of being cancer free.”

He wanted to participate in the Relay for Life as a survivor, but died before the relay was held.

“Little Al knew the importance of Relay for Life and as a high school student attended the event and participated in the event,” Griffin said. “The year prior to his diagnosis, Little Al and my son phoned me at midnight from Relay for Life to tell me they were shaving their heads in support of cancer victims.

“While he was still in Seattle, he told his friends he wanted to come home and do Relay for Life as he knew first-hand, at this point, from a cancer victim how important it was,” Griffin said. “Unfortunately he never had the chance to make that wish come true.”

Since he was unable to participate, his friends and family formed Team AVHL in memory of him.

“His wish will be carried out by many friends in the future,” Griffin said.

Griffin has been a registered nurse for 31 years and has seen people go through the disease.

“I’ve seen my share of patients all along the spectrum from time of initial diagnosis, the shock and the fear, to supporting patients going through surgery or medical treatments or symptom management and sadly for some the end stage of life care,” Griffin said. “Cancer has played havoc with peoples lives for far too long.”

“For the 14th year in Prince Albert, today we will launch an amazing event to support the people of our community that are affected by cancer,” event chair Lyle Karasiuk said. “Our event takes place Friday, May 30 at 7 p.m. at Max Clunie Field.”

The Relay for Life is an event that touches most people in the community, Coun. Lee Atkinson said.

“These days it appears as though there isn’t a family that is not touched in some way (by cancer),” Atkinson said. “It is becoming more and more of an issue and it is great there are exercises of fellowship and sharing, participation and survival. Those are all positive things and we always have hope.”

Janet Thompson, who has been cancer free for 17 years, said the relay is also important to her because it gives people hope.

“I can get out there and show the residents that yes we do survive and there are lots of us -- it is not all doom and gloom,” Thompson said. “When you are diagnosed, you make up your mind that yes, I will beat this and you get out and show the world that you are a survivor.”

The support they see from the community is also amazing, she said.

“All you have to do is say I need some help and there will be someone there to help you,” Thompson said.

Karasiuk said the relay is a celebration of survival, dedication to loved ones and a chance for the community to come together to fight cancer.

The event is an all-night relay, where teams camp out on the track and members take turns walking the track.

After the survivors take their lap around the track, the lighting of luminaries will take place at sunset.

“This is where people in our community pay tribute to those who have beaten cancer and those who have lost the battle,” Karasiuk said. “Close to 2,000 luminaries will be lit and it is a remarkable sight and a very moving celebration.”

Last year, not only did they have 53 teams, 568 participants and 250 survivors at the walk, the event also raised $225,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. This year Karasiuk said they would like to raise $241,000.  

“We try to beat that but if we were only to raise $100,000 or even $50,000 we would be extremely grateful because all of the money supports the cancer programs, the research, the toll-free line and all the services that are provided for cancer patients,” Karasiuk said.

He also encourages all the survivors in the community to make it out to the Relay for Life.

“We always look for people to come out who are not only fighting the battle but have fought the battle and are what we call our survivors,” Karasiuk said. “We want to encourage them to be part of the event because we really do truly recognize them and want them to be part of the day.”

This year, they will also be holding a fight back ceremony during the relay.

“At this time we encourage all our participants to continue to fight and continue doing something for the next 365 days and pledge what they can do each and every day,” Karasiuk said.

“We challenge you each and every day to fight back by being aware of your body and looking after yourself, making healthy choices, becoming aware of the fruit and candy-flavoured tobacco use and petitioning your MLA for their ban, becoming aware of the risks of tanning and protecting yourself in the sun, advocating for a cleaner environment, participating in screening programs and quitting smoking.”

Right now, they challenge is getting as many people registered for the event as possible.

“All it takes is 10 people to come together -- it will cost you $10 per person for an entry fee and it is a fun fundraiser,” Karasiuk said. “We encourage people to just get involved.”

The relay is an important event for many different people.

“Relay for Life is important for me because I know so many people, both professionally and certainly in my life that have been touched by cancer,” Karasiuk said. “If we look at our own businesses or organizations we know somebody, someone who has a family member who has and it is important that we not only try to do our very best to raise that awareness because most cancers are not a death sentence. It is not the end.”

Many cancers are now preventable, beatable or curable, he said.

“There are lots of strategies -- that is what we challenge our relayers to do,” Karasiuk said. “We want them to be part of the next generation to fight back so what are some of the strategies we can do, whether that is healthy eating, putting on sunscreen or sunglasses or whatever strategy we can do just to make ourselves a little healthier.”

The Prince Albert Relay for Life officially launched on Wednesday during a barbecue and presentation at the Forestry Centre.

The Louges and Griffin are impressed by how much support the community has shown for Relay for Life.

“It is for all of those people who have gone through cancer, who are currently going through cancer and for those who have yet to go through cancer,” Griffin said. “It is just that important that we all get together to participate to stop cancer from playing havoc with people’s lives that it currently does.”

Organizations: Prince Albert Relay for Life, Forestry Centre, Canadian Cancer Society

Geographic location: Seattle, Prince Albert

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