Port Alberni resident James Mitchell struggled to complete his laps at Bob Dailey Stadium during the 2011 Relay for Life.
The married father of two fought to complete laps in the survivor and family walks, just as he fought the colon cancer he was diagnosed with in 2008. The strain is evident on his face in one picture with his father Jack, whose countenance looked strong yet vulnerable, as though he’d do anything to take his son’s pain away.
James expected to do only one lap yet completed two through sheer will. But his rapidly deteriorating body was sapped of stamina. “He thought he’d just run a marathon when he finished. He was proud of himself,”
James’s sister, Katherine Mitchell-Adad, said from Ferndale, Wash.
The moment was poignant for another reason. “The doctor said he only had maybe two more months to live. He held on for five more months though,” she said.
James died on July 8, 2011 at Ty Watson House, one month after the Relay for Life. He never volunteered leading up to his diagnosis but something changed afterward. “It’s like a lightbulb went off and he got involved,” Katherine said.
Relay was a life changing experience, the most powerful out of any volunteering he’d done. “Just being around all the volunteers and survivors gave him hope,” Katherine said. “If he were still alive I know he’d want to help by being on the organizing committee.”
Katherine is leading a team for this year’s Relay for Life event, taking place overnight Friday, June 15 and Saturday morning, June 16. Contributing money to help find a cure for the disease that took her brother all too soon is a given.
But a promise she made to him transcended the gravity of the obligation. “It was my promise to him (James) when he died that I would do this. He asked me “Please keep fighting for cure,”” she said.
The Relay for Life starts at 7 p.m. this Friday at Bob Dailey Stadium, and runs for 12 straight hours until 7 a.m. on Saturday.
This year’s speaker representing cancer survivors is Richard Wasylyniuk, father of Brett Wasylyniuk, who is fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer found in the connective tissue between muscles and bones.
Brett and his family also participated in last year’s Relay, walking in the survivors’ lap.
This year’s event will see 28 teams participating, which is down from 2011, Canadian Cancer Society spokesperson Jennifer Sears said.
The teams have raised approximately $50,000 and counting this year, which is also down from $158,000 last year.
Katherine is captain of Friends, Hope & Love. She was stumped for a team name, she said, but came up with one when she thought about why people are involved. “We all have friends, we all have hope and we all have a lot of love,” she said.
As of this writing, the team raised $6,200, $4,100 of which came through a Kinette silent auction of new and gently used handbags. Katherine raised $1,300 in Ferndale, a community of 10,000 people, something that surprised her given its proximity from Port Alberni.
“It blew me away because they never met my brother. But everyone has been touched by cancer in some way so they understand,” she said.
“There is no age, race or reason for cancer. It just happens.”
James was the perfect brother to his two siblings while growing up near Maquinna School, therefore it’s no surprise to those who knew him that he married his wife Bonnie and became a devoted husband and father of two girls.
James loved biking and fishing while growing up. He liked electronics and band in high school, and was an accomplished sea cadet. He worked at Kamma and Blake and considered what he did his dream job, Katherine said.
James also owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and often took road trips with is wife. “That bike was his baby. He saw California and Oregon, and got to see places he’d never been to before,” Katherine said.
There was a shard of light in fighting cancer for three years, Katherine said. “He might have died slowly but he truly lived each and every day,” she said. “He was more alive in those three years than he’d ever been.”
The bond between co-workers is often as strong the bond between a family. Co-workers will rally around one of their own when they need it, something a spirited team from Shoppers Drug Mart understands.
The Wild and Wicked Wahinies is made up of 15 women who will be dressed in a Hawaiian theme at the Relay for Life.
The group is walking in support of co-worker Brittany Savic, 25, whose 27-year-old sister Ashley died of cancer last year, three years after being first diagnosed.
“We all have our reasons for doing this but we’re behind Britt this year,” team captain Kathy Carrier said.
“We wanted to show our support for her so we said let’s get a team together and do this for her.”
The team’s name Wahinie derives from the Maori and Hawaiian word for woman, Carrier said. Burt according to Polynesian mythology, Kiha Wahine is also a Hawaiian goddess. “And we’re all kind of wild and wicked,” Carrier said.
Team members work different shifts so they coordinated things via e-mail. The team raised $6,700 as of this writing through store events, a photo booth, food sales and raffles. The team also intends to braid the hair of a team member then auction off each braid as a fundraiser.
The event resonates deeply with Carrier and not just as a supporter of Savic’s. Carrier is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with throat cancer seven years ago, just before her 50th birthday. She was also diagnosed one week before a planned trip to Mexico, which went on anyway, she said.
Carrier underwent radiation treatment and was off work for two years. Doctors used a new treatment that had a virulent effect to treat her and it worked. “It was harsh but it worked. That’s all that matters in the end.”
Carrier says she’d like to see consistent participation throughout from the start to finish of the event to show solidarity with cancer patients who struggle day and night with the disease.
Giving to Relay for Life and supporting Savic is like a solemn debt. “It’s a way of giving back to people who supported me,” she said. “Without research I wouldn’t have lived.”