Relay for Life Luminaries - Hope Glows in the Night!

Arlene McKenzie
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The dictionary defines the word 'luminary' as, firstly, a person who inspires or influences, one prominent in a particular sphere, and secondly as a natural light giving source such as the sun or the moon. The following is my interpretation of the luminaries at a Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life celebration, and I believe that the emotional luminary ceremony at dusk personifies the above definitions. The following outlines the effect the luminary ceremony has had upon me as a cancer survivor.


The dictionary defines the word 'luminary' as, firstly, a person who inspires or influences, one prominent in a particular sphere, and secondly as a natural light giving source such as the sun or the moon. The following is my interpretation of the luminaries at a Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life celebration, and I believe that the emotional luminary ceremony at dusk personifies the above definitions. The following outlines the effect the luminary ceremony has had upon me as a cancer survivor.

The luminaries seemed to stand at attention around the track, knowing their significance, waiting for dusk so that the candles nestled in the sand inside them would soon be lit. Before my cancer diagnosis I was of the opinion that the luminaries were lit only in remembrance of those who had lost their battle with cancer and had moved on to a better place. Now, as a seasoned survivor, I know that they not only represent remembrance of loved ones that have passed on but also honor and encourage survivors that are still here fighting back.

As I stood at the booth last year purchasing luminaries for those I wished to honor and encourage many names came to mind. I purchased my luminaries and felt the energy flow from the marker to the front cover of the bag, encrypting my messages of hope to others. I purchased luminaries for the cancer connections I had met through the peer support program and carefully wrote their first names and my messages to them, "keep on keeping on", "fight back" "hold on, you can do it", encouraging words that I had spoken to them during our many phone calls. I also purchased luminaries for acquaintances and loved ones that are no longer with us and wrote messages to them that came from my heart "always with me", "remembering your spirit" "forever courageous". Handing the luminary fronts back to the volunteer I knew they would be placed around the track alphabetically so our team members could light them at dusk.

After opening ceremonies and an emotional survivor's walk around the track, friends, family and team members were invited to join us. Their presence gave us strength and encouragement and as we circled the track many times that evening we witnessed the number of luminaries lining the track grow and grow. It was unbelievable how many there were as the daylight turned to dusk.

At approximately 10 p.m. the announcer's voice echoed from the microphone stating that it was time to light the luminaries. Team members scurried to find the ones they had been designated to light. As the clicking of the lighters faded, we were asked to observe a moment of silence. As team members gathered in silence around the track the strains of the bagpipes filled the crisp night air. In the emotional moments that followed it seemed as though the spirits of those gone before us surrounded us, holding us up, giving us the courage to go on. As I stood there with tear filled eyes, I could swear I saw silent footsteps on the track, translucent light shadows of various styles of footwear, deftly placing one foot in front of the other, blending into the night air and eventually disappearing from sight as they rounded the corner of the track. The presence of these brave souls among us for that moment in time, inspire us as survivors to fight back, to be grateful, to allow them to hold us up in their courageous arms. They are the guardian angels that get us through our days and nights of treatment and they silently remind us to live in gratitude and strength. They influence and inspire, these beings now prominent in a different sphere. This is a time when we become one energy source, an army of strength to battle cancer.

This is what the Relay for Life luminary ceremony means to me, as a survivor, as a peer support volunteer, as a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend who has been touched by cancer and is here to fight back.

I encourage you to purchase some luminaries this year, to honor, to remember, to fight back.

Luminaries can be purchased at the local office of the Canadian Cancer Society, on line at cancer.ca, by clicking on Relay for Life, buy a luminary; or they may be purchased on site at the Relay for Life June 5th at the Southside Park. Luminaries are $5 each.

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life

Geographic location: Southside Park

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