Thousands of residents will walk together this weekend to stop cancer in its tracks. CYDONEE MARDON discovers what drives some of the relay's key participants.
Katrina Meehan was enjoying a few birthday drinks with her brothers on her birthday weekend in November 1999 when she started feeling a bit queasy.
By the Monday, when the 27-year-old got up and got dressed for work, the stomach pains were so bad she decided to get herself to the doctor.
‘’We hadn’t heard from her so I rang surgery and asked if Katrina was still there,’’ her mum Sue recalls.
‘’They put her on the phone and that’s when she told me she had lesions all over her liver and has to go to hospital.
‘’It was like a cone came down over me. In that moment I knew she was going to die.’’
It happened just like that. There was ‘’no indication whatsoever’’ before that weekend that Katrina was so sick.
She was given three months to live. She lasted seven.
Sue and her husband, John, and two sons, Chris and Mick, were absolutely devastated.
The following year, in 2001, Katrina’s brother Mick took part in the Molaki to Oahu Ocean Paddle Race – a journey of 60km across one of the most dangerous ocean currents between islands.
Coming home after competing in the race he wanted to organise something similar around the Five Islands off Wollongong and approached the Cancer Council.
He found out that a new event called “Relay for Life” was starting at the end of the year.
It was the first one held in the Southern Region.
‘’It’s our 17th relay this year, we have been there every year,’’ Sue explains.
‘’It’s like a gathering of friends really, you see people there that you might not have seen since.
‘’We camp in the same spot, you have the same people beside you…. we’ve got the land rights there now we’ve been going for so long.’’
Katrina’s memory is kept alive through the walk and her presence is felt through the huge banner featuring one of her mum’s favourite photos.
The former St Mary’s College student has certainly left her mark. Her family has raised over $70,100 so far.
The Meehan’s will be out in force at Beaton Park again this weekend, rain, hail or shine.
‘’I relay because I want to make a difference in the fight against cancer,’’ Sue says. ‘’Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Australia, and together we can change that.
‘’Hopefully with the efforts of family and friends we can make a contribution to support … research and assistance they provide to those currently suffering from cancer.’’
Kelly Aquilina was at the stage in her life where she should have been planning her family when doctors told her she needed a radical hysterectomy with lymph node removal.
She was 30 years young.
‘’Instead of planning for children I was forced to plan for the loss of my fertility and how best to save my life.’’
Here began her roller coaster ride.
‘’I tried my best to focus on making my health a priority. I even signed up with the Cancer Council's Gold Team for City to Surf,’’ she said.
‘’While I was training for this event I noticed some unsettling tummy issues and went to my GP.
‘’A CT scan confirmed that my cancer had come back just less than a year later, on my ureter.’’
Once again the Albion Park woman was was told she needed surgery.
‘’This time to remove the new tumour on my ureter and bladder.
‘’Due to the pain I was in and my surgery being the day after the City to Surf race, my husband took my place and ran the race in my honour.
‘’Together we raised over $9000.’’
From there Kelly underwent a course of radiation and chemotherapy.
It was an ‘’overwhelmingly scary time’’ which she says she would not had survived without the support of her family and friends.
That support crew is back again, getting behind Kelly this weekend with her fundraising for the Relay for Life.
They are leading the money spinners – having raised a mighty $17,000 so far.
‘’I’m a numbers person, so now I want to get to $20,000.’’
‘’While my formal treatment has stopped, my monitoring is ongoing and I am doing what I can to prevent the big C from coming back,’’ she said.
‘’The thought of its return is numbing and I am constantly reminded of its impact through close relatives and friends who are on their own personal cancer journeys.
‘’I know so many strong, brave survivors as well as their carers.’’
She calls them Superheroes – the name of her relay team.
’’I am looking forward to celebrating the power of community with like minded individuals and giving some strength and hope to those needing it,’’ she said.