By MICHELLE STUART, as told by AMY HUNT
When Caroline Springs community member Michelle Stuart experienced the loss of two close family members last year, she was inspired to bring a special, overnight, community experience – Cancer Council’s Relay For Life – to her local community.
“I have known quite a lot of people who have had their own battles with cancer and seeing the effects that can have on families and love ones became the inspiration for me to get involved with Relay For Life.
At the beginning of last year, my father in law was diagnosed with lung cancer and sister in law with a brain tumour. They were both diagnosed with cancer at similar times. My father in law passed away four days after he was diagnosed and we lost my sister in law fourteen months later.
Seeing the effects on my extended family had a significant impact on me. I contacted Cancer Council because I wanted to do something about it and when you’re going through a cancer experience you can feel like there’s not much you can do. Through Relay, I can do my part in the fight against cancer.
I explored ways to get involved and help Cancer Council and the idea of starting a Relay For Life in my local community came up. I’m a teacher and parents at school were really passionate about getting involved. My husband and family very much supported me too.
In the past, my husband and I had attended Relays when friends had a team registered. My husband had also hosted the moving Candlelight Ceremony, which is held at dusk, at Mildura Relay for many years. I’d seen different elements of Relay but never been part of a team or the volunteer committee.
After meeting a Cancer Council staff member for a coffee and chat about what could happen in my local community of Caroline Springs, I spoke to a few other people who were interested in joining the volunteer committee. We all got together and luckily some had experience as they were previous Relay participants. The rest of us had known a loved one or a friend who had experienced cancer.
As a volunteer committee, we worked hard to make the inaugural Caroline Springs Relay happen and we set high goals – but we were amazed at how many people got involved and the amount of money we raised!
It was great to meet so many members of our local Caroline Springs community and hear their stories. To speak to people who had lost loved ones – partners, mums, dads, sisters – and to see friendships formed by those sharing the Relay experience was touching.
In the Relay world, there’s a saying ‘You arrive at Relay as strangers and leave as friends’, and it really is so true!
Our volunteer committee was lucky to have strong support from family and friends – but it really spread through the community. It was amazing to see people and businesses that heard about the Relay and wanted to get involved.
Before people arrive at Relay, they think it’s going to be an endurance event, or a walkathon. Once they arrive and experience the entertainment; activities; moving Opening Ceremony; lap of honour for cancer Survivors and Carers and the Candlelight Ceremony at dusk – they realise it’s so much more than just walking around a track!