The ladies of the Breast Cancer Support Group found inspiration from the folklore of a nation of fierce women warriors for their Relay for Life team name.
In Greek mythology, Amazon warriors are said to have cut off one breast to better facilitate the use of bow and arrow during combat. Like the Amazons, many in the support group had to make sacrifices during their battle against cancer.
The Breast Cancer Support Group was initiated in 1994 by Lynne Hill, who was starting treatment for breast cancer. Hill wanted to know what to expect during the process, turning to Nan Latour, Leslie Hermanson and Deanne Stava. Today, Stava is the only remaining founding member.
Word of the group spread fast, with a number of women joining over the next few months.
There are currently about 25 women in the Breast Cancer Support Group, comprised of those recently diagnosed and others who have been free of the disease for decades.
On the third Saturday of each month the group meets in the Rockwell Room at the Crest Hotel, shedding many tears and even more laughs over the years. Eleven of its members met for lunch on April 18, all of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer at some point, and some with other forms of the disease.
“There was no other support group for women with other types of cancer, so we’ve invited everyone to join us,” said long-time member Barb Gruber.
On average, the Breast Cancer Support Group welcomes about two or three new members per year, with veteran members giving newcomers piece of mind during a scary and overwhelming time in their lives.
“When you’re diagnosed, it’s terrifying,” said Bea Lapp.
“[Cancer] has got to be one of the nastiest words in the English language. You get so much information so fast before you’re even able to cope with it all. To find a group where everyone has been through it, they know the ropes and can [tell you what’s important] really helps.”
“I think that’s why some of us who have been involved for a long time keep coming; for the new members. [To show them] there is life after cancer,” said Judy Warren, who has been part of the group for many years.
The ladies of the group are pleased to say they’ve witnessed a fair share of success stories over the years, but there hasn’t always been happy endings for its members.
“When you lose people it’s really sad because they were just the same as we are,” said Judy Levelton, another long-time member.
“You just have to be thankful for every day.”
With all of the money raised at Relay for Life events across the country supporting Canadian Cancer Society programs, services and research, the Prince Rupert Amazons feel it’s necessary to participate as a way to pay back the society; A majority of the women have utilized the many services of the Canadian Cancer Society, helping them immensely throughout their battles.
Team Amazon also spends a day walking the track of the Patullo Field in memory of the fallen warriors they fought the battle alongside.
“We have lost many dear friends in our group who we hold close to our heart every day. The Relay for Life is a time to walk the track and think of the ladies that would be so proud of us as they look down, saying ‘you can do this!’,” explained Levelton.
“It’s to honour those who have passed away from cancer and support those who are yet to come,” added Carol Ruperto.
While for the last couple of years there hasn’t been enough participants, Team Amazon will be returning for the 2015 relay. More than 10 members of the Cancer Support Group will take to the track at the end of May, some for the first time and others who have been involved with Prince Rupert’s event since its inception.
Those in attendance at Saturday’s luncheon unanimously agreed that the survivor’s lap is always an emotional part of the annual relay, as well as the luminary ceremony.
Each year, the event starts off with cancer survivors and those currently fighting the disease completing the first lap of the day, with their friends, family and supporters following behind. Then, the relay closes with the luminary ceremony, with participants and community members purchasing special bags that are lit up by candles to honour a survivor or loved one lost to cancer.
“You don’t find a family nowadays where somebody hasn’t had cancer. When you walk that final lap they all come to mind,” said Gruber.
“I still find it really hard because I lost my husband to cancer,” said Barb Stewart.
With just over a month to go until the 2015 Relay for Life in Prince Rupert, the Amazon ladies are hoping to fundraise as much money as possible.
“As survivors, we no longer set limits,” said Terri Munts.
To donate to the Amazons, visit the team’s pledging page on the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life webpage, or contact Judy Levelton at 250-624-4576.
Prince Rupert’s 2015 Relay for Life will take place on Saturday, May 30 at the Patullo Field beside Prince Rupert Middle School. The event will begin at 10 a.m. and runs until 10 p.m.