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Relay for Life, get set for a powerful all-nighter

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If you’ve never been to a Relay for Life event, I challenge you to do so.

Since Australia hosted its first one in 1999, in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena, the annual Cancer Council fundraiser has pumped more than $130 million into cancer research, prevention and support programs.

Relays are now staged in every Australian state and territory, attracting more than 134,000 participants each year, all walking for those affected by the deadly disease.

It’s become an act of solidarity of sorts.

And, despite the name, this is no race and there are no batons being exchanged.

This is about the transfer of good vibes.

I attended my first Relay for Life in February 2018 when I was working as a journalist for a newspaper in south-west Victoria.

My assignment was to capture the “feel” of the event, interview a few attendees, and write about the opening ceremony.

But, I left with so much more.

The popular annual event, on the oval at the local university campus, was awash in a sea of purple (the event’s signature colour) with hundreds preparing to walk the 400m circuit on-repeat for 24 hours.

I wasn’t sure how some of them were going to pull this off.

There was no doubting their commitment though. Marquees, eskys, folding chairs, blankets, and beanies filled the grounds around the track – a track that would dip to single digit temperatures within hours.

As the sun dipped out of sight the event was officially kicked off by a local celebrant, as crowds shared stories of survival, the sadness of loss, and dreams of the future in what is referred to as the “hope ceremony”.

Placing candles inside personalised paper bag lanterns with handwritten messages, each was simultaneously lit and left to line the track that was otherwise coated in darkness.

While the air got colder, the ground grew silent, except for the occasional whoop or laughter.

While many walked and talked in hushed tones, some caught some sleep undercover, but all remained in what I can only describe as a powerful togetherness.

The Cancer Council’s 2024 Relay for Life Newcastle is on May 4 and 5.

Celebrate. Remember. Fight back – this is the catch cry of the annual event.

Relay For Life is now a global movement that brings communities together to celebrate cancer survivorship, remember loved ones lost and fight back against cancer.

It’s designed to be an enjoyable, moving overnight experience that raises funds for Cancer Council’s research, prevention and support services.

It’s a chance for communities to recognise and celebrate those who have overcome cancer or are undergoing treatment, as well as the people who care for them.

And, it also provides an opportunity to celebrate the memory of loved ones lost to cancer.

This year you should plan to make it to the Newcastle Relay for Life, which will take place at the Hunter Sports Centre in Glendale on Saturday 4 to Sunday 5 May.

Yes, it’s an all-nighter, but ask anyone who has been before and you might be surprised by how quickly the hours while by.

It’s not about how many laps you do and whether you’re covering the distance at all, it’s about being together.

And when we gather en masse for a cause that touches every Australian in some way, that can be powerful.

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