Candice Sifert was passionate about the Canadian Cancer Society’s (CCS) Relay for Life held annually at Coquitlam’s Percy Perry Stadium for 27 years.
She had reason to be. When she was 26, she lost her 49-year-old mother to breast cancer. A dear friend, Robin Poussard of Port Coquitlam, died of brain cancer.
So she joined in.
“She was a really dear friend," Sifert said of Poussard, "and all of us wanted to show support to her and we thought it was a good way to do it all of us together. She was a beautiful soul."
Then, a few years ago, Sifert, whose father-in-law also died from cancer, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. That has gone away, thanks to the treatments she underwent, but her enthusiasm for fundraising for CCS hasn’t.
“I’ve lost too many people,” said Sifert. “It’s such an emotional time but you need that support. I get very energized when I’m participating.”
But even she knew the event needed a makeover.
In 2011, the 12-hour event raised close to $500,000. By 2015, the dollars collected had dwindled to less than half at just over $230,000.
The society solicited feedback on why so few people were participating. Society spokesperson Nester Chen said many thought it was a 24-hour relay and that even though the eventually actually took half that time, 12 hours was still too long of a time commitment.
This year, organizers have reduced it to four hours (from 6 to 10 p.m.) and taken the most powerful part of the event, the final lap, and made it the star of the show. It has also been rebranded as the Moonlight Walk for Cancer and moved to Lafarge Lake on June 1.
”I was OK with the old one and I am passionate about the 12 hours, but I do agree with listening [to the feedback]. Most people preferred a shorter time,” said Sifert, who joined the organizing committee just before receiving her diagnosis.
“The final lap was the most powerful… Candles are lit and the silence of everybody together walking is so powerful… always tell everybody if you don’t come for the whole day, if you come for the last lap, you’ll come back every year.
“The track made it feel more like the relay where the lake is going to feel more like family, community. You’re here with people who are supportive.”
The Relay for Life in Coquitlam was the first of its kind in Canada. “It’s something we definitely don’t want to see go away,” said Sifert, whose 16-year-old daughter MacKenna joined the organizing committee two years ago. “I’m hopeful. I don’t want my daughter to live through what I did at 26 years old. Our family’s been through a lot and I don’t want other families to go through that and for her to grow up with that.”
But she worries. Since her mother died at the age of 49 and she’s 47, already having survived a bout with cancer. “I’m in a scary stretch,” she said, though she’s optimistic. “Moonlight Walk for Hope, that’s what we’re all here for, hope. That’s perfect.”
• To register a team online go to www.cancer.ca/moonlightwalkforcancer.