From Donegal to Washington and back again
As many of us know all too well, there are few if any families in Donegal who haven't been touched by cancer.
And while the illness brings much anxiety and sadness, one of the most heart-warming and positive events related to cancer in the county has to be Relay For Life.
Due to Covid-19, the main event can't take place this year in Letterkenny. But right now, people all over the county are clocking up the kilometres - very much in the spirit of togetherness and support that underpins Relay For Life, despite not being able to physically gather.
When it became apparent that there would be no Donegal Relay this year, the organisers came up with a novel idea. Rather than the usual gathering of teams walking the track at LYIT over 24 hours on the June Bank Holiday weekend, teams instead record the kilometres that they walked over the last few months.
It was originally hoped when the challenge opened in March that collectively, the teams from all across Donegal would reach a target of 7,113kms. The significance of this total is that it is the distance between Letterkenny and Tacoma in the US state of Washington, the home of the original Relay For Life that has inspired a global movement.
This target has been absolutely smashed, thanks to the efforts of everyone taking part. In fact, it has already been doubled, with the virtual journey to Tocama and back again now complete.
Teams also set up their own fundraising pages, with money raised going to the Irish Cancer Society to support research and local services such as night nurses and the Daffodil Centres.
I am part of one such team through the Donegal Dragons watersports club. We are walking and kayaking our way through as many kilometres as we can, and it is lovely to be a part of this Relay with a difference.
Indeed, Relay For Life Donegal has played a big part in the history of our club.
It was there that our founder Deborah first heard about the benefits of dragon boat paddling for breast cancer survivors. Once the seed was planted, she set about finding out more, trying it out in Dublin and before too long, setting up a team on Donegal Bay.
No doubt there are many other such 'Relay' stories, because this is an exceptionally special and well thought-out event that touches everyone who takes part in a way that will never be forgotten.
Survivors are very much to the fore of events. They walk the opening lap at Relay each year, followed symbolically by carers in the second lap. Part of the entertainment each year comes from the survivors' choir who really embody the celebration of life through the joy of music.
There is a really positive vibe to opening day, with all the colour and vivacity of the teams and an immense feeling of support and solidarity.
Cancer is a lonely journey. The treatment can hammer the immune system, meaning patients require a level of isolation that a lot more people have become familiar with recently through Covid-19. But Relay weekend is the time to come out into the sunshine - or to dance in the rain, as the case may sometimes be in Donegal!
The event also acknowledges and celebrates those whose lives were cut short by cancer. The service of light which consists of thousands of candles in bags bearing the names of loved ones takes place as dusk falls. It is a poignant ceremony that brings those lost loved ones to the LYIT track with us.
Throughout the weekend there is a feast of entertainment, as well as inspirational speakers and information stands.
This event is also a huge fundraiser that directly benefits cancer patients in Donegal, and having to cancel last year was a huge financial blow.
It is therefore great to see all the good will and enthusiasm surrounding this year's virtual Relay For Life.
Well done to the hard-working committee for this wonderful idea to unite Relay supporters from all over Donegal, and for keeping us all motivated and encouraged.
To everyone around the county who is clocking up the kilometres, well done. You are part of something amazing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and I have no doubt that many of our teams can virtually cross the Atlantic to Tacoma again, especially with these lovely, bright evenings.
If you would like more information, pop over to the Relay For Life Donegal Facebook page for details and updates.
There is also a link for anyone who wishes to make a donation.
Information can also be found at www.donegalrelayforlife.com
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