Relay for Life celebrates 10 years

Saturday's Relay for Life marks the 10th year the event has taken place in Whitehorse. The Yukon Canadian Cancer Society hopes to raise more funds and celebrate local survivors' struggles.

Saturday’s Relay for Life marks the 10th year the event has taken place in Whitehorse. The Yukon Canadian Cancer Society hopes to raise more funds and celebrate local survivors’ struggles.

As a cancer survivor, author and Yukon News columnist Keith Halliday encourages everyone to attend the event, which will start at noon Sunday at Shipyards Park.

Halliday was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer in 2002.

“The treatment protocol for my Hodgkin’s was so well-known and so well-defined and effective and so now it’s important to me that me and other people in Whitehorse contribute to the next generation of cancer research and also raise money for those activities,” he said.

Halliday said that his battle with cancer was a very “fortunate” one, in that his recovery was quick and his work insurance footed his medical bills. “It was six months of chemotherapy and then followed by a break and then a month of radiation,” he said.

He still experiences lingering side effects. “You’re never really fully out of the woods,” Halliday said. “I have a higher risk of lung cancer in various parts of my neck and I also have to take thyroid medication on an ongoing basis because my thyroid was radiated,” he added.

He also praised the B.C. and Yukon province’s medical services for the quick recovery. He said he “seamlessly” moved between the Whitehorse General Hospital to the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver.

Despite the closure in mid-May of the Whitehorse office of the Yukon Cancer Society, annual activities such as the Relay for Life still live on.

“It was done for economic and financial reasons. What we want people to know is it just makes it cheaper so the money goes to the things that really matter like prevention and research,” said the society’s part-time organizer, Alanna Bennett. “And the fact that we still have relays is really wonderful because it’s still a place that people can get together and celebrate cancer survivors. I guess in the office there’s only one or two people at a time so at least we still have the relay,” she added.

People have been understanding, because “it’s expensive to keep an office and staff going,” Bennett said.

Relay for Life donations go towards research, prevention initiatives and support services for people living with cancer.

But the relay won’t look the same without long-time supporter and Yukon College chancellor Geraldine Van Bibber, who has separated herself from the society and started her own initiative, called the Yukon Cancer Fund.

Van Bibber had been a volunteer with the society for over 20 years, knocking door-to-door when she first started to raise funds and awareness in Whitehorse. “I don’t want to take all the credit because there’s a lot of wonderful volunteers and I was just part of the cog, but very vocal and visible that’s for sure,” she said.

Van Bibber opposed the closure of the office. “As far as I can see they have taken the Yukon off because they’ve closed their office. And to have them say call 1-800 or visit a website. So many in our communities do not have access to Internet, as elders that we have aren’t computer literate,” she said.

She has already collected $10,000 with a half-dozen more volunteers when they launched their first fundraiser on May 2 with David Laxton, Speaker of the Yukon legislature, as a host.

Van Bibber and other volunteers for the Yukon Cancer Fund aim to raise $100,000 so they can start distributing money to survivors and their families. She said she’s still unclear on how much will be given away.

She hopes to tell survivors to go “buy nice pair of shoes or have a nice dinner or use it for your bill that you need to pay, it’s no-questions-asked as well.”

Halliday endorses the idea. ” I think the more the merrier for cancer research. I think the more people encouraged to give in more ways that would be fantastic. And I think it’s nice to see local initiative as well, so I support that as well.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at