Courage to share and to laugh – Hay River holds its third Relay for Life

Angele Cano/NNSL photo From left, Warren Durocher, Leonard Daigneault, Lorin Durocher, Bernadette Courtoreille and Rahcel Durocher walk around the Relay for Life Track at Diamond Jenness Secondary School as a family.

The Relay for Life returned to Hay River for the third time over the weekend.

On June 15 and 16, teams circled the track at Diamond Jenness Secondary School to celebrate life – especially cancer survivors – and to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Teams with some of the most creative ideas to raise money kept the total rising furiously into the wee hours of the overnight relay.

Although there were fewer teams this year, organizer Shari Burnstad said that didn’t mean the minimum $40,000 goal was unreachable.

“A lot of the fun of it is in raising the money,” said Burnstad.

While teams were outwitting each other with their efforts, one team captain was mustering up the strength to finally tell her story. Bernadette Courtoreille of Hay River, who was diagnosed with  acute lymphocytic leukemia a decade ago, was asked to tell her story at the two previous events, but wasn’t ready to do so until this year.

On June 15, Courtoreille sat in the tent of her family’s team healthy, energetic, and able to delegate tasks as an effective matriarch.

“It’s been 10 years now so I can finally say I’m a survivor,” said Courtoreille. “I wasn’t ready before, but on Sept. 29, 2011, I was told I was 99.9 per cent cancer free.”

Courtoreille was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002 after experiencing extreme fatigue. The mother of four and grandmother of eight recalled the news sent her into a panic. She immediately thought she wouldn’t survive. Doctors told her if she didn’t undergo intense chemotherapy, she would die in two months.

The treatment worked, but in August of 2006, her illness returned. She was told this time she needed to undergo more chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. The second round of chemo left her weak and listless before her operation.

She has participated in Relay for Life since it began in Hay River, but only this year was she able to share with the crowd how she put the terror behind her. Glassy-eyed and silent, they stood and listened to how she made it through.

“You have to pray a lot,” she said. “You have to be strong and you have to have the will to live.

“That sounds easy, but it can be very hard to do. I was so lucky to have support from my crazy family. I probably wouldn’t have made it through without their support and laughter.”

By 9 p.m., Courtoreille’s family team was the first to the gold mark by raising $10,000. Three more teams had raised more than $5,000 each, and still two more hit $7,500.