Celebrating the survivors

Posted on 6 June 2016

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) says one in four South Africans will be affected by cancer in their lifetime – either via someone they know contracting the disease or being diagnosed with it themselves. The CANSA Relay For Life events are held locally and internationally to celebrate and remember people whose lives have been affected by cancer. Survivors, in particular, are celebrated, honoured and treated as VIPs.

How did it start?
Relay For Life started in 1985 in the USA when Dr Gordy Klatt walked and ran around a track for 24 hours, raising $27 000 for the American Cancer Society. A year later 340 supporters joined him and today it’s grown into a worldwide movement.

What is it about?
Relay For Life events are held overnight and are entirely driven and owned by communities and volunteers. Teams of 10 to 15 people – comprising friends, neighbours, co-workers and family – take turns walking around a track for the duration of the event, which is usually a 18- to 24-hour period.

Funds are raised through sponsorships of teams or individuals and the money goes towards research, education and supporting the fight against cancer.

CANSA supports more than 31 research projects at universities around the country, and upwards of R12 million is spent on cancer research annually.

How do people get involved?
Getting involved in Relay For Life is easy and the events happen all over the country. Sign up here or find an event in your area here.

Highlight
The Luminaria Ceremony is the highlight of every Relay For Life and is dedicated to those who’ve lost their battle against cancer, those who’ve won and those who are still fighting. Personalised bags line the track and after dark candles are lit in a moving ceremony and are kept burning throughout the relay.

Questions?
Get in touch with CANSA via email or call 0800 22 66 22.

Did you know?
Mediclinic has an extensive national oncology network. Read more about how they give cancer patients all the support they need on their journey.

Advice from cancer survivors

Don’t be selfish
‘I remember my mom crying when she found out about my diagnosis,’ says DJ and entrepreneur Mark Pilgrim. ‘That was heart-wrenching. I was focused on consoling her and in doing so it took the initial shock away from me. Not checking yourself is the most selfish thing you can do. If you die from cancer you’re gone, but it’s your loved ones who remain behind and who will mourn you for years to come.’ – Mark Pilgrim, testicular cancer survivor.

Accept help
‘Let go of being a hero. You need support. Accept and ask for help, call in those favours your friends owe because you never know when you’re going to need it.’ – Wilma van der Bijl, breast cancer survivor.

Keep your humour
‘With so many hours spent in hospitals, the only way I could play a role in my healing was to use my imagination. I started having fun with my tumour. I imagined fighting it, squashing it. I doodled and created a “hero” – the indestructible “Bouncy Brain. I concentrated on the back of my head where the tumour was and imagined the hair growing back so lushly it could coat a small rocket ship blasting the tumour into space. I used humour, irreverence and storytelling to connect my mind to what was going on in my body. And it worked. I became stronger.’ – Conn Bertish, brain cancer survivor.

Mutual support
Graeme and his wife both contracted breast cancer. He remembers, ‘We both found that our greatest strength was our mutual support, along with that of friends and family. There was some questioning – “Why us?” – given that we both follow a reasonably healthy lifestyle: non-smokers, limited alcohol, regular exercise, weight control, good diets and so on. But our response was more philosophical and there were very few sleepless nights.’ – Graeme Comrie, breast cancer survivor.

Don’t stand still
‘I’m a positive person and I learnt early on in life that you should never stand still. Life is all about progressing. Sitting in the chemotherapy room, getting the treatment… it’s horrible and there are days when you don’t want to get out of bed, but life doesn’t stop there. You have your ups and downs, but that’s just the nature of living.’ – Xylon van Eyck, lymphoma survivor.

You will make it
‘Have a positive mind and always tell yourself that you will get through this no matter what. Irrespective of which stage the doctors tells you that you are in, you will make it.’ – Fatima Sherazi, breast cancer survivor.

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