Relay for Life generates nearly $130,000

By Chris Funston, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

No one fights alone.

That was the message shared at the 19th annual Woodstock Relay for Life on Friday to the survivors and those whose fights are ongoing in the battle against cancer.

Community champion Brian Donlevy addressed the crowd of about 300 at College Avenue Secondary School, where he explained the damage that cancer can cause to not only the victims but those around them. He explained that part of the disease that no pill, machine or elixir can cure is the emotional and psychological damage that cancer can cause.

“I want my life back. I want my world back. But that’s not going to happen and not going to happen for people close to me,” said Donlevy.

Donlevy was diagnosed with throat cancer in May 2017. The cancerous lump on his neck has since shrunk, but an unknown primary – a rare disease in which malignant cancer cells are found in the body but the place the cancer originated is not known – still has a chance to appear elsewhere in his body.

As much as the disease has changed him, it’s also changed the people around him. But he wanted to show people they just need to look around to see they were not alone – be it survivors or friends and family. He said no matter what you think to yourself, someone else has thought – or is thinking – the same way.

“You’re no longer alone,” he said. “People don’t want to talk to a survivor because they’re afraid to upset them. Survivors, at times, don’t want to talk about it because they don’t know how to express themselves; they don’t know what to say.”

As someone who has endured it, Donlevy said the best thing someone can do to help someone going through cancer is to let them know you care. A simple text, he said, saying “thinking of you, hang in there” was enough to get him through radiation treatments. While he said it may seem melodramatic, it’s not.

“That sort of text can save a life. You’ve got a chance to save life. You’ve got a chance to share, commiserate.”

Donlevy, a well-known community personality following his work in local media, specifically at CKOT in Tillsonburg and throughout Oxford County, made it a goal to unite Oxford as the relay in Woodstock was that final local event.

Since being named champion, Donlevy has travelled to each municipality to meet with their councils. There he made a pitch to each of them to have someone come forward to be a part of his team, Bad Neighbourhood. In what he calls a “fabulous response,” a member of each local municipal council came forward to be a part of his team to truly make this year’s Relay for Life an Oxford County event.

Mark Peterson, a Blandford-Blenheim councillor, explained how much Donlevy helped him when he was first elected to council in 2010. He said that Donlevy was there for him when he needed someone to speak to or needed guidance. As someone who covered each of the municipal councils in Oxford County, Peterson said that getting Donlevy’s perspective meant a lot to him.

“For what he’s going through, it makes the little things in life just not as important anymore,” said Peterson. “When you see what someone else is going through, you tell yourself ‘is that important?’ It makes you think you need to enjoy life everyday, because it could be your last.”

The event raised more than $129,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.

The top fundraising team, Team RoZ, brought in more than $16,000 through fundraising efforts that began in September. At times, it felt like a part-time job for team captain Maggie Hagedorn and her teammates, but once they saw how much they were raising, she said they just kept working and working.

“We’ve been working so hard,” she said. “We’re such a dedicated group. … It’s great that all that work worked out well for us.”