Relay volunteer knows what cancer survivors have been through
Dianne Bellesen began to volunteer at the Relay for Life fundraiser five years ago at the urging of a friend.
Bellesen, then 65, spent her first two relays at the North Delta Secondary school running track as a helper at the Survivor Tent.
She usually didn't spent a lot of time talking in depth with the cancer survivors, who came to the 12-hour, overnight fundraiser.
"I really didn't get a sense of what the survivors were going through when I was with the tent," the South Surrey woman recalls. "It was just a fun experience."
In her third year, in the spring of 2011, things were different.
"One of the other ladies who was a survivor gave me a pink breast cancer scarf. She said 'wear this, because you'll get really cold. This'll keep you warm'."
Bellesen, still a volunteer, was about to start chemotherapy, just a few weeks after a double mastectomy.
Her outlook on life, her empathy for the visitors to the Survivor Tent and the importance of the Relay for Life had changed.
Previously, the one connection she'd had with cancer was in her 20s, when her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 52.
For years, she had worried, and went through frequent exams, scans and biopsies.
"When you have it in your family, you're always waiting for the shoe to fall."
By her mid-60s, Bellesen began to think she had dodged the bullet.
The new diagnosis was a shock, but things moved quickly and efficiently.
"It was amazingly fast. I was so fortunate," she says, describing how she was treated by her doctors.
She then opted for the best odds she could get, chemotherapy and a drug (Letrozole, taken for five years) that would give her only a 10 per cent chance of relapse.
The big struggle was to get her energy back after the chemo ended.
"I guess I'm a little Pollyanna, I don't know. I just figured when that chemo was over, I should be back on my feet. It was rather a shock when I wasn't.
"That was really hard on me personally, that I couldn't do the things that I've always done."
The 12-hour days of her 20-year licensed home-based child care service were numbered.
But with more energy now, she's gearing up for another Relay for Life – an event to celebrate life and fight cancer – where, wearing a survivor's T-shirt, she'll be in charge of the Survivor Tent as teams lap around the track for the overnight hours.
"We’re almost at our goal of 140 participants but we would love to have more teams register and exceed expectations," said organizer and Delta Dynamos team member Gwen Clyne.
"We have activities, entertainment, food and great energy throughout the event and many of the participants will be with us throughout the night. "
The first lap of the relay is the survivors' victory lap, and cancer survivors lead the group around the track.
"That opening lap is very emotional," said Clyne.
Bellesen wants to make a special appeal for cancer survivors to join in the survivors' victory lap.
"We get very few out, may be 20. They just don't come out. We don't know why."
She says that survivors – some of whom prefer to call themselves "fighters" – all battle the disease in different ways.
Bellesen admits her own method is "back-into-my-cave," without a lot of talking about it.
"(But) I'd love to see them (at the survivors' victory lap). I guess the whole premise of this that people have survived cancer, and let's make it possible for more people to survive it, and to survive longer."
The ninth-annual Delta Relay for Life takes place June 7 and 8 at North Delta Secondary School, 11447 82 Ave. Entertainment begins on Saturday at 4 p.m. The opening ceremony and survivors' victory lap take place at 6 p.m. A Remember Ceremony, lit by tea lights, takes place at 10:30 p.m. The closing ceremony and Fight Back Challenge takes place at about 5:45 a.m. on Sunday. Registration is $20 (which includes Relay For Life T-shirt). This year’s theme is “Festival for a Cure,” and teams are encouraged to dress up and decorate their camp site for prizes. For details, call 604-533-1145, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://relayforlife.ca
The Relay for Life in 2013:
• 487 events took place across Canada, raising $46.5 million for the Canadian Cancer Society.
• 161,746 Canadians participated on 16,224 teams.
• 33,252 celebrated their survival.
• 28,311 volunteers made it happen.