With a heavy heart, and an uplifted spirit, Gail Watkinson has signed up for her fourth Relay For Life.
Participants of the 12-hour walking relay have their own reasons for signing up to a team, raising money spending a day on the track — for Watkinson, it’s about support for her and others in the community.
“I was becoming more aware of cases of cancer in my community and in my family,” she said.
Breast cancer has affected many women on her mother’s side of the family. One in nine women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Six years ago, Watkinson was diagnosed and had a mastectomy to rid her body of the disease in one fell swoop. But three years later, the cancer returned and she needed a second surgery.
“They told me there was a five per cent chance of the cancer coming back after the mastectomy and it came back,” Watkinson said.
The surgeon removed 15 of her lymph nodes, seven of which were cancerous. For her follow up chemotherapy and radiation treatment she went to Victoria. This was where her community stepped up in her time of need. Her husband, mother and nieces would come visit her while she recovered.
More support came from her co-workers at the Prince Rupert Fellowship Baptist Church. Her radiation commenced in July 2015 and she went back to work at the church September, but since then she has found another job in Kitkatla.
“I’ve been really fortunate in both my cases [with cancer]. One, early detection, and two, I had a great support system,” she said.
Her first Relay for Life was in 2012, and she reflected on when the relay began at 10 a.m. Kitkatla members organized to have drummers and dancers at the event. As she started walking, the tears trickled down her face, she was surprised to see so much of her family and friends there.
“It can be sad doing the relay, seeing all the people affected by cancer, but it’s also uplifting to see all the people helping each other out,” she said.
The first lap for the relay is dedicated to survivors, but Watkinson said she invites her family and friends to join — they were on the journey with her, it’s not just for the survivors.
The Kitkatla community had held fundraisers and helped her team raise $5,000. Her team this year is called Support Kicking Every Cancer Walking for a Miracle on the Road to Relay.
Even though she says she’s fine now, she continues to walk for a miracle. For the next five years, she has to take pills as part of her cancer treatment. The relay is her way of giving back to the community and for all those on the same journey as her.
“I can’t find a cure, but this is somewhere I can help so they can do the research,” Watkinson said.
The Canadian Cancer Society hosts the Relay for Life in communities across the country. Although Prince Rupert is small in comparison to other cities, last year teams raised $124,000 almost doubling the $65,000 raised in 2013.
This is the first part in the Northern View’s Relay for Life series. The event takes place on May 27 at the Prince Rupert Middle School track from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.