A Cansa walk to remember

Team Rennie from Heideveld came out in honour of their family member who died of lung cancer. From left are Mary-Ann Witbooi, Duane Saaiman, and Linda Paul.

One hundred and forty-one teams took part in the ninth annual Cancer Association of South Africa’s (Cansa) Relay for Life at the Vygieskraal Stadium, on Friday and Saturday March 10 and 11.

The event is held every year from 6pm on the Friday until 6am on the Saturday. Each team is made up of 15 people who complete laps on the track in aid of all those affected by cancer, and one of the conditions of the event is that at least one person on the team must be on the track at all times – signalling that cancer never sleeps.

Teams come prepared with warm clothes, water bottles, warm food, coffee and their luminaria bags.

The luminaria bag is a white paper bag filled with sand and a candle, which is lit at 9pm on the Friday evening when the lights are switched off. All the bags are placed around the edge of the track and once the lights go off, teams walk a silent lap in honour of all those lost to the disease.

At the event was six-year-old Khloe Debliquay, from Bonteheuwel, who was diagnosed with stage-4 leukaemia at the age of two.

Her journey with cancer started off with a cold that wouldn’t go away. In September 2014, doctors at Red Cross Children’s Hospital diagnosed her with leukaemia after many tests. Khloe, the youngest of five children, underwent radiation and chemotherapy for the rest of 2014 and 2015 and is now in remission.

Claudia Groenmeyer, who has formed a special bond with the girl she refers to as a “ball of fire”, had also just undergone cancer treatment when she met little Khloe.

“I just came out of treatment and also had cancer and wanted to get involved with cancer patients and survivors. I saw people rallying around Khloe on the official Bonteheuwel Facebook page. I went to Red Cross to see what I could help with and there I met up with her mom and they have been in my life since,” said Ms Groenmeyer. “Everyone knows her; she’s a child in my house. There’s no Khloe without Claudia and there’s no Claudia without Khloe,” she said.

Khloe now goes for follow-up checks every three months.

“She’s a little ball of fire and just speaks a lot. She is gaining weight and growing up so quickly. She is a lovely child,” Ms Groenberg added.

Anthea Bingle, event chairperson, said this year was different as the entry fee had been much higher than last year’s. Last year’s fee was R650 and this year’s was R1 650. All of the funds go to Cansa to create awareness about cancer.

“The teams have become more conscious of why we relay. It is not a social event anymore – there is clear focus on why we relay,” she said.

Teams took part in 24 different laps, including the wig lap, the purple lap, the hat lap, the onesie lap, and the wake-up lap, among others.

Ms Bingle said it was important for people to attend every year so they knew they were not alone.

“You identify with different people. Everyone has a different story but the one thing that’s common is hope. Everyone has hope,” she said,

Another participant, Felecia Edwards, from Athlone, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, fulfilled her wish to attend the relay if she survived her diagnosis. She explained that her journey had started when she had an uncomfortable feeling in her right breast. Three years later she managed to build up the courage to go for tests.

Doctors at Groote Schuur Hospital did a mammogram and found a lump in her right breast, less than a millimetre. Half her breast was cut away. Ms Edwards never had any children and will be married for 22 years this year.

Her advice to people is that they need to have themselves tested if they feel uncomfortable. “Today I am healthy and running for Nantes. I’m so glad that I went to have it checked because here I am today, attending the relay which was a wish of mine,” she said.