Michelle's story

"The sense of community in regional areas is strong, but it can be hard to feel the same in the suburbs. Through Relay you can bring the community together for one reason."


I have known quite a lot of people who have had their own battles with cancer, and seeing the effect it can have on families and loved ones became the inspiration for me to get involved with Relay For Life.

At the beginning of 2013, my father-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer and my sister-in-law with a brain tumour. They were both diagnosed with cancer at similar times. My father-in-law passed away four days after he was diagnosed and we lost my sister-in-law fourteen months later.

Seeing the effects on my extended family had a significant impact on me. I contacted Cancer Council because I wanted to do something about it, and when you’re going through a cancer experience you can feel like there’s not much you can do. Through Relay, I can do my part in the fight against cancer.

I explored ways to get involved and help Cancer Council, and the idea of starting a Relay For Life in my local community came up. I’m a teacher, and parents at school were really passionate about getting involved. My husband and family very much supported me too.

In the past, my husband and I had attended Relays when friends had a team registered. My husband had also hosted the moving Candlelight Ceremony, which is held at dusk, at Mildura Relay for many years. I’d seen different elements of Relay but never been part of a team or the volunteer committee.

After meeting a Cancer Council staff member for a coffee and chat about what could happen in my local community of Caroline Springs, I spoke to a few other people who were interested in joining the volunteer committee. We all got together, and luckily some had experience as they were previous Relay participants. The rest of us had known a loved one or a friend who had experienced cancer.

As a volunteer committee, we worked hard to make the inaugural Caroline Springs Relay happen and we set high goals – but we were amazed at how many people got involved and the amount of money we raised!

It was great to meet so many members of our local Caroline Springs community and hear their stories. To speak to people who had lost loved ones – partners, mums, dads, sisters – and to see friendships formed by those sharing the Relay experience was touching.

In the Relay world, there’s a saying that “You arrive at Relay as strangers and leave as friends,” and it really is so true! Our volunteer committee was lucky to have strong support from family and friends – but it really spread through the community. It was amazing to see people and businesses get involved.

Before people arrive at Relay they think it’s going to be an endurance event or a walkathon. Once they arrive and experience the entertainment, activities, moving Opening Ceremony, lap of honour for cancer Survivors and Carers, and the Candlelight Ceremony at dusk, they realise it’s so much more than just walking around a track!

Watching friendships form between teams was a highlight – Relay is a way to give extra support to those who have faced, or are facing, tough times in a really positive way. Relay creates a sense of community and is the time and space to reflect and be supported through a cancer experience.

Cancer can be a really helpless time – for people to feel that they can contribute to the fight against cancer, through Relay you can. You might not be able to change anything for your loved one, but you can contribute to changing the future. Knowing that without us Cancer Council wouldn’t have the money we raised is an amazing feeling. We know the money we raised will go towards supporting people who are battling, or to loved ones of those battling or to research to prevent cancer. Our community is so generous to give so much – it really does make a difference.

Relay links the community – friends made at Relay will see each other outside of Relay. I’ve seen a few people down the street since Relay and we’ve shared a big hug, and they’ve said how they can’t wait until next year. The sense of community in regional areas is strong and sometimes in Melbourne, the suburbs feel big and it can be hard to feel the same sense of community, but through Relay you can bring the community together for one reason.

Next year, as a volunteer committee, we would love to build on the success of this year’s Relay. The people make the atmosphere, so we’d love to see more teams and more people involved. We’d love to continue to build on the strong community support we’ve felt and get more small businesses involved. Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way.

Personally, the opportunity to be with friends and family in that space and remember loved ones – and celebrate those who fought cancer – is the best part. As a volunteer there’s a lot to organise, but when you’re at Relay with the people you love and have been through the cancer experience with – that’s what it’s all about.

There are so many ways to help out. You don’t have to walk the whole time. You don’t have to donate thousands of dollars. Every step counts. Every dollar counts. Some businesses made large donations, some made small. They all contributed to what we were able to raise. Register, come down and see what it’s all about.

[Pictured above is Michelle (top row, fifth from the left) with the Caroline Springs Relay Organising Committee.]

Do you want to give back to your community and help others? Find your local Relay For Life event and join the committee or register a team today!