Taking one step at a time, the Marching Ants are keeping the spirit of Relay for Life ignited as they celebrate survivors and remember loved ones lost to cancer.
Relay for Life is a global movement to bring communities together to create a cancer-free future, raising vital funds for the Cancer Council’s research, prevention and support services. This year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canberra community has been invited to “Relay Your Way” in a challenge of their own choosing.
The Marching Ants have been participating in the ACT’s Relay for Life for 13 years and plan to walk bridge to bridge around Lake Burley Griffin to show their support.
Sisters Maria and Helen Rodriguez have been involved in the Marching Ants since its beginning in 2009. They will be relaying on 20 March to honour their mother before having a celebratory remembrance afterwards for those lost.
“It would have been my mum’s 56th wedding anniversary,” Maria said.
“We decided to do it on that day to celebrate her life … It’s an emotional day, so why not be together with your closest friends and family,” said Marching Ants team member, Jacqui Hewitt.
Maria and Helen lost their mother to cancer in 2014, while other members of the Marching Ants have had family members fight cancer or have been diagnosed themselves. Jacqui lost her mother in 2013 to non-smoker’s lung cancer and five weeks later, she lost her grandmother to a brain tumour. Denise Connolly was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. This year will be her 15th year cancer free.
The team admits they are disappointed this year’s relay can’t be held as the traditional overnight event at the AIS, but they plan to make the day just as special and fun filled.
“It’s missing that atmosphere, that comradery that you get setting up at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning,” said Denise.
“One of the highlights is doing the survivors’ lap at the beginning of the relay. I have always gotten to do that with Eddie, Maria and Helen’s dad, because he’s always marched for and with Maria Senior before she passed … that was always very special.”
While they are uncertain of the logistics, Maria said they are hoping to carry on the tradition of relaying for 24 hours. The team agrees that fundraising for the Cancer Council has never been as important following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a case of recognising that while the world changes around us, we need to adapt,” said Helen.
“If it means we all have to ‘relay our way’ for a few years or for many years, we still make that difference … While COVID is the thing everyone talks about at the moment, it’s not the only thing we as humans need to fight against.”
“It might not be a global pandemic, but millions of people die, have died and will die from cancer as well so we need to recognise we can make a difference.”
For more information or to donate, visit actcancer.org