Relay run celebrates lives, past and present

Danette Dooley
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When Cathy Croucher heads to Memorial University's Field House on May 31, for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Relay for Life, she'll bring with her a small white bag with a luminary inside.

The outside of the bag will bear the name of Croucher's oldest daughter, Jill.

Croucher, her husband Mike and their 11-year-old daughter Julia relay in memory of Jill, who had yet to celebrate her ninth birthday when she lost her life to leukemia almost six years ago.

Cathy Croucher sits with photos of her daughters Jill (left), and Jill with her sister Julia, Jill died almost six years ago. Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

When Cathy Croucher heads to Memorial University's Field House on May 31, for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Relay for Life, she'll bring with her a small white bag with a luminary inside.

The outside of the bag will bear the name of Croucher's oldest daughter, Jill.

Croucher, her husband Mike and their 11-year-old daughter Julia relay in memory of Jill, who had yet to celebrate her ninth birthday when she lost her life to leukemia almost six years ago.

Jill Croucher was five when diagnosed with cancer.

"Our hearts stopped that day and life has changed forever for us. We're doing OK, but our family will never be the same," Croucher says.

Jill had gone into remission, but relapsed near the end of her treatment.

Croucher says her daughter's battle with cancer was a courageous one that lasted 27 months, the last eight months in the Janeway.

"Jill was a very spirited little girl, very courageous, very positive. Even though she only had eight short years, it's amazing how much we have learned from her about the true meaning of life," Croucher says.

Croucher credits family, friends and the staff at the Janeway for helping those closest to Jill move on.

"Our daughter Julie was five at the time that her sister passed away. And without her, we would never have gotten through it. She's been the inspiration and the wind beneath our wings, as the song goes."

Team player

Croucher and other family members got involved in Relay for Life about a year-and-a-half after Jill died.

After being a team captain for two years, Croucher began serving on the relay's planning committee.

This year, she is chairing the St. John's Metro Relay for Life.

"The role has allowed me to transfer the determination and positivity that I helped Jill fight her battle with, to a very rewarding cause," she says.

Croucher's family and extended family relay as the Tweety Birds - Jill's favourite cartoon character.

Four years ago, Croucher says, her family and friends entered two Tweety Bird teams into the relay.

This year, she says, the number has grown to seven teams with anywhere from eight to 12 people on each one.

Three of them are made up of children and youth.

"We dye our white shirts peach, close to the colour of Tweety Bird. We're decorated from head to toe, we bring pom-poms and everything from bedding to balloons to stuffed toys - everything Tweety."

Croucher says her family decided early on not to wear yellow shirts as they felt that would be disrespectful of the cancer survivors who relay in bright yellow shirts.

Relay for life

Relay for Life is a CCS overnight event that occurs in over 180 communities throughout the country.

Over 20 relays are planned for this province this year, Croucher says.

The St. John's 12-hour relay gets underway at 7 p.m.

"There are very humbling and moving moments throughout the evening like when you have the survivors' laps and caregivers' laps and the luminary ceremony. But, for the most part, it's a very upbeat and inspirational time," Croucher says, adding that there's bingo, basketball and other special events taking place throughout the evening.

During the luminary ceremony, the special candles placed in white bags are marked with the names of not only those who have passed away but also cancer survivors.

The luminaries provide inspiration and light to participants throughout the night, Croucher says.

The biggest fundraiser in the CCS's history, the relay welcomes individuals and teams as well as volunteers to help out during the event.

The money raised this year will go towards cancer research.

A portion will also be donated to Daffodil Place, Croucher says.

Croucher says she's certain Jill will be there in spirit when those touched by cancer get together to celebrate the lives of not only the survivors but also those, like her daughter, who lost their fight with cancer.

"As someone said to me when I was helping Jill fight her battle, 'It's not how long you live, it's how you live.' And Jill lived every day to the fullest," Croucher says.

For more information on the relay or to purchase luminaries at a cost of $5 each visit www.cancer.ca or call Christa Skinner at 753-6520.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society, Field House, Metro Relay for Life

Geographic location: St. John's

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