Eighteen years after she walked a track in her first Relay for Life event, Nicole Wongkee continues to see how powerfully it can bring together all the people whose lives have been affected by cancer.
“It’s important for me to participate because it’s something I can do to support others and try to fight cancer,” she said. “I think it gives us hope and encouragement that no matter how bad it gets for someone, someone else is there for you.”
Wongkee did not have a personal connection to the relay when she first took part in it in 2000. She happened to be visiting her aunt in Kitimat on the day that her aunt was participating in a walk. Wongkee decided to participate in the event to show her support and was immediately struck its uplifting atmosphere.
“I saw all these people that were there, and as sad as the day can be, there was a lot of love and a lot of hope there that touched me,” she said.
Wongkee immediately began to think of how she could help and contribute to the cause, and continued to walk in the years following that. In 2010, Wongkee’s mother, Clara Downey was diagnosed with cancer and quickely succumbed to the illness.
“She went to the hospital in December and passed away in February,” said Wongkee. “It was devastating because she was my best friend.”
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Her mother’s death made the relay more personal for Wongkee, as she had to work through the anger and frustration that comes with losing a loved one. Eventually, however, her thoughts turned to how she could continue to contribute to the cause.
“I just thought ‘I need to do something about this, I can’t help my mum anymore, but there are other ways I can help and support,’” she said. “And I thought it was just a good way to remember her.”
Wongkee has since continued to walk in her mother’s memory and in steadfast support of those who have been touched by it. In 2015, she began to walk with a Prince Rupert group called the White and Teal Women of Steel, a team made up of teachers and child support workers in the city. Wongkee said the bond she has formed with that group has grown over the years to the point that she considers them each to be close friends.
Wongkee’s walk will continue on May 26, and her fight against cancer will never end.
“Yes, cancer kills, but it doesn’t kill friendship and love,” she said. “It can’t take our memories our faith and our hope, and it’s kind of my way of saying ‘up yours’ to cancer.”