Mel Croteau is so pumped about this weekend’s Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life, that it is doubtful her feet will touch the ground when her Shaw-Mazing teammates make their first circuit around the track at Bob Dailey Stadium on Friday.
“It’s going to be phenomenal,” she said. “It’s going to be a great night.”
While Croteau was on the Shaw-Mazing team last year, her motivation this year comes from her aunt, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, as well as Shaw’s team captain, Tara Johnson.
Croteau works in the back office at Shaw—with Johnson’s husband, TJ—although she spent four years working in customer care before that. She and 14 other teammates have raised nearly $10,000 for the relay, and last week Croteau learned that Shaw has decided to match their pledges up to $10,000.
Even before Shaw’s commitment, Croteau was the top individual fundraiser out of more than 100 participants. By bank night she had raised $7,325 and promised to shave her head in exchange for making her fundraising goal.
Her longtime hair stylist, Michele Cherry of Trends Design Team will shave her hair. Then her cousins, Corey and Chris Jones, who helped her raise her money, will also shave their heads in support.
Croteau’s own experience with basal cell skin cancer five years ago pales in comparison to what her aunt is going through right now, she says. But she received some good news in the days before the relay: her aunt’s cancer has gone into remission, and she is once again healthy.
For Shaw-Mazing team captain Tara Johnson, the journey to the survivor’s lap took a more sombre path. She was diagnosed in 2002 with choriocarcinoma, a cancer of the placenta. However, because of a delay in diagnosis the cancer metastasized in her uterus and lungs.
Choriocarcinoma is a fast-growing form of gynecological cancer that occurs in the uterus. Abnormal cells grow in the tissue that would normally become the placenta, which feeds a fetus during pregnancy. Most women who develop choriocarcinoma during pregnancy miscarry, Johnson said.
She, however did not. She successfully gave birth to her daughter, Tatum, now 10, without knowing she had cancer. It wasn’t until Tatum was nine months old that Johnson was finally diagnosed—four months after first going to her ob-gyn complaining about prolonged post-partum bleeding.
She spent more than a year taking chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells, and ended up having a hysterectomy. Her cancer is in remission now, she says.
One of the ways Johnson dealt with her experience was to co-write a book, Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia, available through Trafford Publishing. “It was so rare and there was nothing out there for me to find help myself,” she said.
Five years ago, while living in Saskatoon, Sask., Johnson joined a Relay for Life team. “The first time was just a step in the right direction,” she said. “It was a way of healing for me.”
When she and her husband TJ moved to the Alberni Valley, she joined a team here. Two years ago she approached some of TJ’s colleagues at Shaw (she is now working at the Clam Bucket) and asked if they would put together a team.
That is when she got together with Croteau and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Johnson’s cancer may have been rare, her story is not. For every yellow T-shirt-clad person that walks the track this weekend, there is a story about fighting and surviving cancer. And like Johnson, they all want to see the disease eradicated.
The Relay for Life kicks off at 7 p.m. this Friday, June 17 at Bob Dailey Stadium, and runs for 12 straight hours until 7 a.m. on Saturday, June 18. The public is encouraged to come out for the opening ceremonies and cheer on the teams.