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Blake Shelley remembers his first Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life in Bonavista.
At only six years old, he recalls walking in his yellow t-shirt with people remarking about such a young child being touched by cancer.
“I can remember walking around the stadium, and seeing people up in the stands crying — seeing a little child,” Blake told The Packet
Now, at 16 years old, Blake says the Relay For Life is important for survivors like him.
“I like doing it because it helps raise awareness for cancer and raise money for such a great cause,” he said.
Cancer has touched his life in a significant way, and while Blake says he tries to live his life as if nothing happened, he will always have those memories, scars, struggles and triumphs.
That’s what the Relay represents for him.
Cancer and treatment
Blake was just about to turn six, in March 2009, when he got the news no family wants to hear.
He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Although he was very young, Blake remembers what it was like to go through his illness and subsequent treatment. Initially, he recalls being so tired all the time, as well as sweating a lot when he slept. His breathing was also laboured because of his airway being compromised.
“One day, my face just became swollen,” recounts Blake. “I was unrecognizable.”
Blake’s mom, Terri-Lynn Short, a nurse, recognized something was wrong. She told The Packet she rushed him to the Janeway Children’s Hospital.
After a series of testing, including an initial chest X-ray which found tumours, the doctor told them of the cancer diagnosis.
Blake is emotional when thinking back to the amount of pain and hardship he had to go through at such a young age.
“I can remember my mom being next to me and her crying because they found I was diagnosed with cancer,” he said.
Short also remembers how devastating it was to experience that time.
“You hear the word, ‘cancer,’ and your mind goes to dark places — especially with your child,” said Short. “But he was a good trooper. He didn’t complain much.”
Blake went on to have four rounds of chemotherapy over a six-month period including a month of radiation.
Through all the treatment and recovery, Blake mostly missed the things he loved to do — like play hockey with all the other kids his age.
He had to sit out and not be included, for fear of his health. After finishing chemo, his immune system was compromised.
“I had to sit down and watch all these young kids play,” said Blake.
He also had a port-a-cath in his chest — a catheter site which threads directly to a vein near the heart — from which he still has a scar to this day.
He also remembers having to graduate Kindergarten with no hair, as a result of his chemotherapy treatment.
Despite his challenges, he returned to hockey in the fall of that year.
“He didn’t give up,” said Short, looking lovingly at her son.
It’s that sentiment of never quitting, honouring survivors as well as those who have died from cancer, that makes the Relay for Life so special.
Today, Blake is in his tenth year of remission and has a yearly doctor’s appointment to monitor his health.
After 10 years, he’s considered, more-or-less, cured.
But he’s sure to participate in the Relay every year.
Blake likens the Relay to some other experiences he’s had over the years — things that have eased his struggle and given him good memories with the bad.
He says the Relay is like programs like Make-A-Wish, Children’s Wish Foundation, or Young Adult Cancer Canada’s Shave for the Brave. They provide positive memories for people who have dealt with so much.
“(Things like that) really meant a lot to me,” he adds.
And as far as the cause, Blake stayed at the Daffodil Place in St. John’s and remembers the great things they did for him — warmly accepting him and cooking great food.
Blake participates in the Relay's survivors’ walk and is sure to light a luminary in memory of those who have passed and to honour other survivors. Aside from his direct connection, he’s had three grandparents who had cancer — a connection to which most people in the community can relate.
His own family and friends light a luminary for him, too.
“It makes me feel good about myself,” he shares. “And it makes me want to be involved in these events to be there with all the survivors and show respect all those who are deceased.”
The Bonavista Relay For Life is Saturday, Sept. 7, at Cabot Stadium.
What is the Relay For Life?
Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is a fundraiser event that remembers the deceased and celebrates survivors in communities, sending a powerful message of hope for those living with the disease.
For the past 20 years, you’ll see participants of all ages taking turns walking around a designated track at Relay events. Events are six to 12 hours in length, depending on the location. They ask each team to have at least one member on the track at all times, as a way to symbolize our solidarity with those affected by cancer across the country. With nearly 1 in 2 Canadians expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, everyone knows someone whose life has been changed by this disease.
Those taking a break from walking can check out their event’s entertainment and activities, or relax at their team’s campsite.