As sisters Kristyn and Lauryn Reeves went through their duties as St. F.X. Relay for Life volunteers, as co-chairs of the survivors’ committee, they did so with thoughts of their younger brother Nick and his battle with leukemia.
“He is in Grade 12 now, 17 [years-old]; he was diagnosed with leukemia when he was five,” Kristyn, a fourth-year human kinetics student from Summerside, P.E.I., said of her brother, who also happens to be the captain of the Charlottetown Pride major midget hockey team.
She noted Nick is one of the fortunate ones to come through his battle and describes him, and the strength and courage he showed at such a young age, as an “inspiration.”
“He’s the reason we decide to take on this role every year,” she said.
“We try not to think about all the negative side of it, but he was so strong. I’m four-years-older than him, I’m supposed to be the older, stronger sister, but when he was five and undergoing all his chemo, he never stopped … he played hockey through it all,” she said, describing a scene where he would casually lift his cage as their father came over with his medication to take during a game or practice.
Younger sister Lauryn, a second-year nursing student, sat by nodding her head.
“Nine years chemo-free this August,” Lauryn said, adding that they were hoping Nick’s hockey schedule might allow him to join them for Relay at X, which took place March 15. Lauryn was speaking with the Casket a few days prior to the Friday night event.
“At such a young age, it was hard for us to understand and comprehend what was going on,” she said, recalling the days, weeks and months after Nick’s diagnosis.
“We were told Nick has cancer and he and mom and dad had to go to Halifax for three weeks for chemo; and then he was in the hospital every month. But like Kristyn said, other than the negatives, that’s something that stood out so much, him always being with his friends and being on the ice. That was kind of his escape from it all; he wasn’t the kid with cancer when he on the ice, he was a hockey player.”
Kristyn used the word “normalcy” when describing how Nick carried on with his favourite activities, while going through treatments.
“It (hockey) provided a sense of normalcy, which he always looked to maintain,” she said.
“He didn’t miss school, he didn’t miss hockey, hanging out with his friends; he tried to maintain the normal vibe to an eight-year-old’s lifestyle … that has always stood out to me.”
Lauryn noted that doesn’t mean Nick was unaware of the seriousness.
“That young, it’s scary,” she said.
“Our rooms were right next to one another and one of the things I remember was him waking up really upset, scared his cancer would come back or he wouldn’t be able to survive … but he is one of the strongest people I know,” Lauryn added, the memory evoking visible emotions.
She added this year’s Relay for Life would also be their first since losing their uncle Gary, who passed away from a “fast-acting form” of cancer in September.
“So this one is different for us,” she said, noting now having experience with both perspectives; a loved one’s battle through cancer, and someone lost to cancer.
The sisters talked more about their role with the St. F.X. Relay for Life team.
“It’s reaching out to local survivors, whether they’ve already undergone their chemotherapy or are currently undergoing their chemotherapy,” Kristyn said. “Reaching out and making those connections with them and inviting them to our event. We put on a reception banquet event the night of Relay for Life, around 5:30; it’s a meet-and-greet for the survivors, just before the survivor lap, so everyone has a chance to get to know each other.”
Again, speaking a couple of days before the event, Lauryn said they had 34 survivors confirmed to attend.
“Which is really good,” she said. “Last year we didn’t have quite as many, but it held over the March Break last year, so it makes sense.”
And opening the invitation to survivors’ families and friends is very important, noted the Summerside sisters.
“A point we make when we reach out to survivors is, bring your family, your friends, your support group, because we know it has had a large impact on them; trying to help you through this,” Kristyn said.
“It is all about the survivors and people we lost – honouring and remembering,” Lauryn added.
And while the event may have already taken place, Kristyn said there is really never an end-date as far as donating to the Relay for Life cause.
“Even after Relay for Life is done, fundraising is still going on online (convio.cancer.ca and follow links to St. F.X. Relay for Life),” she said. “You can go on our St. F.X. Relay for Life page on Facebook and donate that way, you can create your own personal page and collect donations that way … there is really never any deadline for donations.”