After losing 3 sisters to cancer, how one woman honours their memory at Relay For Life

The words “you have cancer” can change everything – for the person who hears them and for their loved ones too.

Linda knows first-hand how a family member’s diagnosis can affect everyone closest to them because her own family has faced the cancer journey together many times.

Over the course of just 8 years, Linda lost 3 of her sisters to cancer. She opens up about her family’s experience and how she found a meaningful way to celebrate the lives and legacies of her sisters through the Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life.

A family’s journey with cancer

In 1990, one of Linda’s sisters, Rita, was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after the birth of her first daughter. After undergoing a hysterectomy and surgery to remove the tumour, Rita was given the news that she was cancer-free.

Four years later, Linda’s family was impacted by cancer again when her sister Doris learned she had nasopharyngeal cancer during her pregnancy. Encouraged by Rita’s experience, the family remained hopeful as Doris underwent 8 months of treatment after her son was born. Unfortunately, after initially going into remission, Doris was told the cancer had spread to her lungs. She passed away in 2003.

Linda wanted to honour Doris’ life in a meaningful way and celebrate the memories they shared. She turned to the Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life – a fundraising event that brings together communities, united by the same goal of creating a world where no Canadian fears cancer. Through Relay, people like Linda can celebrate those who live and have lived in the face of cancer, honour those moving past cancer and remember loved ones.

So in 2005, Linda rallied her friends and family to form Team DW, and together they raised $3,500 at their first Relay event! Being surrounded by other community members who had gone through similar experiences helped Linda cope, find strength and become a pillar for her family.

The following years were some of the most difficult as cancer continued to affect Linda’s family. Rita was diagnosed with cancer a second time and sadly passed away from colorectal cancer in 2009. Shortly after that, another one of Linda’s sisters, Shirley, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of nasopharyngeal cancer – similar to Doris – and for a third time, Linda said goodbye to a sister when Shirley died a year and a half later.

While coping with the loss of her sisters was challenging, Linda knew that she wasn’t alone. Inspired by the shared experience of the Relay For Life community – and knowing that there were other families just like hers who would continue to be impacted by cancer – Linda became more determined than ever to make a difference for Canadians facing cancer.

Linda sitting in a chair.

Honouring the memory of her sisters while making a difference

Together with the support of her family and friends, Linda continued to grow her Relay For Life presence. And as more people in her community were inspired by her story, they looked to honour their own loved ones in the same way. Linda has now brought together 7 Relay teams, collectively raising more than $300,000 in support of the cancer cause.

Through her family’s connection to cancer, she’s seen for herself how funds raised through events like Relay are creating real change.

“There’s so much progress that’s being made in treatment and survival rates,” Linda shares. “Doris and Shirley were diagnosed with the same type of nasopharyngeal cancer nearly 7 years apart and our family saw how the treatment options available to Shirley were much better than what was available to Doris.”

To Linda, Relay is about honouring her sisters – it's about the memories that live on even when they’re no longer with her.

“Fundraising and volunteering make me feel closer to my sisters – even though they aren’t physically here, their spirits still are,” shares Linda. “They’ve made me a stronger person. If I’m here, and there’s something that I can do to help other families impacted by cancer, I’m going to do it.”

Linda and the members of one of her Relay For Life teams.
Linda and members of one of her Relay For Life teams at a past event.

Proving that community is bigger than cancer

Community is a feeling – and Relay For Life just wouldn't be the community it is without our dedicated participants like Linda.

“I Relay because I know I’m helping others impacted by cancer,” shares Linda. “I see everyone else’s stories of courage and hope – how can I stop?”

On June 12, 2021, Relay For Life will unite a community of people across the country committed to changing the future of cancer. While this year’s Relay will look a bit different, our virtual Relay event will include all the signature components of our in-person events – including an opening ceremony with inspirational stories, performances from incredible entertainers, a luminary celebration that pays tribute to those we love, and more.

Support Relay For Life and help us prove that community is bigger than cancer.