Kildare Relay for Life countdown: Lilywhites unite in cancer fight

We look behind the scenes at some of the preparations for next weekend's Relay for Life in Punchestown

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Kildare Relay for Life countdown: Lilywhites unite in cancer fight

A scene from last year's Relay for Life

An average of 1,159 people in County Kildare are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Every three minutes in Ireland someone gets a cancer diagnosis.

Every hour someone dies from cancer. By 2020, one in every two of us will get a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime.

This is the stark reality facing us according to the Irish Cancer Society (ICS).

However, Peter O’Neill, one of the driving forces behind Kildare Relay for Life, points out there is hope with €25m being ploughed into cancer research by the ICS since 2010.

“They are doing fantastic work and there is a huge amount of research being carried out,” said Peter.

Relay for Life has a two fold objective — to raise money for cancer services and research, while also creating awareness.

Last year, it raised €90,000.

This year, it returns to Punchestown Racecourse, starting at 1pm on Saturday, September 15 and running until 1pm on Sunday 16.

It is a 24 hour event that brings the community together to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remember those lost to the disease and inspire the fight back by increasing knowledge of cancer and raising money to fund vital research and services of the ICS.

There are thirty teams signed up to take part this year. Each group will have a member of their team walking the route at all times during the 24 hours. Candle bags will be placed in the centre of the path.

Members of the public can buy a candle bag to represent a family member lost to cancer or someone who is currently battling the disease.

The most recent figures released by the National Cancer Registry from 2017 show the most common cancer in the county is non-melanoma skin cancer (376 cases), followed by breast cancer (114) and prostate cancer (133).

Peter remarks how he was asked at one recent meeting where the funds go.

He points out the ICS spend the proceeds on a number of initiatives including the free phone cancer nurseline as well as sending out 3,774 cancer information booklets to Kildare in 2017.

Last year, a total of 55 cancer patients received 209 nights of care through the society’s Night Nursing service.

A total of 1,145 journeys were facilitated for 110 patients using the volunteer driver service which transports patients for chemotherapy appointments.

Counselling was also provided for 24 Kildare people to help them cope with a cancer diagnosis.

Grants totalling €8,000 were given to Kildare families under the Society’s Financial Support Programme and 51 patients from Kildare were granted a total of €18,332 from the Travel2Care transportation assistance fund made available by the National Cancer Control Programme.

Peter points out that Relay is an uplifting poignant event.

“People get together and share their experiences and their stories. It’s very moving,” he said.

The survivors are the heroes of the event. Over 100 of them have signed up and will be wearing specially designed purple t-shirts. They will be leading out the teams as the Relay gets underway. They will be pampered at the event and also receive goodie bags.

2FM’s Keith Walsh is ambassador for Relay and he will be dropping in to support the event.

The Candle of Hope ceremony is due to start at approximately 8.30pm on the Saturday with poems and reflections read throughout the ceremony.

Young cancer survivors, Clodagh Daly and Aoife Byrne will also take part and the release of the doves also returns again this year.

People can still buy the candle bags at a cost of €5 from any team member, or Newbridge and Clane Parish centres.

They will also be available to purchase during the event.

Scouts from Newbridge, Kilcullen, Naas and Kildare town will also be volunteering their help. Two metric tonnes of sand has been ordered for the bags and a team of dedicated volunteers are ready to swing into action.

Last year 6,500 candle bags were bought and this year, similar numbers are expected to line the stands and route.

Most of the teams come from the centre of the county and they have been fundraising hard in the run up to this year’s event. The last team meeting prior to the event takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, September 5.

There will be live entertainment for the entire 24 hours and such is the number of acts eager to perform that Peter even has a standby list if any acts cancel. Each team will have a stall and there will be lots of fun and entertainment for all the family.

“The whole community gets together. You have tears, laughter and exchanges of stories and people get out and about and talk about their own different journeys. You can’t put a value on that,” said Peter.