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Helping put cancer on ice

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 30, 2012

Cancer knows no boundaries, so Pte. Kristy Doyle was surprised to find that one of Canada's biggest cancer-fighting events had never crossed Nunavut's border.

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Cancer survivor Master Warrant Officer Jim Britt and event organizer Pte. Kristy Doyle are among the team taking part in Nunavut's first Relay for Life May 19 at Canadian Forces Station Alert. - photo courtesy Kristy Doyle

That will change May 19 when Doyle brings the Relay for Life to Alert, the world's Northernmost inhabited place.

"Almost every base does Relay for Life," said Doyle, a Royal Canadian Air Force meteorologist working at Canadian Forces Station Alert since December. "I've done it for the last five or six years, even before I joined the military. My grandfather, (Master Warrant Officer) Ernie Spencer, had cancer, so it's been the one thing I made sure I did every year."

Relay for Life is a 12-hour fundraising walk held annually in communities across Canada and around the world. Teams raise money ahead of the event, then gather to walk laps throughout the night, typically from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Doyle's grandfather, who inspired her to join the military, died two years ago, and last year, "I couldn't even do the Relay for Life because it was just a little too emotionally trying," she said. "I wanted to do it this year, but the fact that we didn't have it available, I was a little surprised, so I started organizing it."

Canadian Cancer Society representative Michael Sheiner said "We think it's absolutely fantastic," of the Alert Relay.

"(It's) a way to celebrate lives of people who have conquered cancer, a way to remember those who have passed away because of cancer, and a way to fight back against cancer because the money that is raised goes toward research, to finding a cure for all cancers, and all of the services we provide across the country."

In most communities, the Relay for Life is an outdoor event, but Alert's event will be mostly indoors.

"Due to the fact that it's still -25 C, we can't do the whole thing outside, so we're doing the majority of it inside the gym, and then, every hour, we're going to do a lap outside," on a track created for the event, she said. "We're going to have a few fun games, and there's quite a few of us at the station who play music, so we're going to do some entertainment there. We're going to have a Miss Alert contest, where the guys dress up and that's going to be judged. It's all in good fun."

Relay for Life always opens with a survivor's lap, during which Master Warrant Officer Jim Britt, the station's construction engineering officer, will be the lone participant.

"I was on an overseas tasking in 2004 starting in January," Britt said, recalling his cancer battle, which started that June. "I was throwing up what I had just eaten. I thought I had caught the flu and that it would go away on its own. After about two weeks of being sick I finally went to see the military doctor who thought I might have an ulcer and sent me to the local hospital.

"The doctor informed me that he had good news and bad news for me," he said. "The good news was that I did not have an ulcer but that I had a cancerous tumour where the esophagus joins the stomach. My first thought was I am going to do everything in my power to overcome this situation."

He overcame cancer that October, and his spirit of survival is what has brought together Doyle's team, which numbered 15 before a registration drive on the April 21 weekend. She expects about half of the 70 military personnel and civilians living at Alert will take part in the Relay.

"Our initial goal was $1,200 and we beat that in less than 24 hours," she said. "I upped the goal to $2,500, but we still have (almost) a month, so at this rate I'm going to have to raise it again. I'd like to hit $5,000, and I'm pretty sure we could."

Most of that money is coming from southern sponsors, some of whom learned of the Relay through a blog she has been writing to share her experiences in Alert.

"I haven't been able to share my Northern experience with him (her grandfather)," she said, "and I know (the Relay experience in Alert) would have been something we would have loved to have shared."

Doyle's posting in Alert ends this summer, so it's not clear whether Nunavut's first Relay for Life will be the last for a while. Sheiner hopes that's not the case, and encourages other organizers and other communities to keep the Relay in the territory.

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