On the 8th of November, The Barossa Valley will host the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life.
Relay For Life started in 1985 in the USA with Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon who wanted to raise awareness of cancer and increase the income of his local cancer charity.
Since then, Relay for life has gone global and, according to the Cancer Council, is now the largest fundraising event for cancer in the world, celebrated by more than 4 million people in over 20 countries.
Kristie Bartsch is one of the many participants in the Barossa event with her team ‘Leigh’s Army’, which was formed to raise awareness of Cancer, and commemorate her late brother.
As a 27 year old, Leigh James McEvoy started to suffer stomach ulcers, but the normally fit and healthy young man didn’t think much of it.
A year later, Leigh was complaining of constant indigestion and reflux; he felt ill all of the time and lost 10 kilos in two weeks. After an endoscopy, Leigh was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer.
After three gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, it was clear Leigh’s body wasn’t responding to treatment.
On 6th of July, 2013, just 11 weeks after his initial diagnosis, Leigh lost his battle with cancer with his family by his side. He was just 28 years old.
Kristie Bartsch formed Leigh’s Army with her brother’s family and friends, and the local community immediately rallied to support the team to raise funds and awareness.
“We have had a great response from the community. Last year we raised $10,000 from personal donations,” she says. “This year, Whistler Wines held a ‘Macca Day’ for us, and during Barossa Gourmet Weekend carried around a donation box.”
“Most recently, one of Leigh’s best mates and his wife held an ALF Grand Final lunch where friends came along to raise funds for Leigh’s Army. B&D Doors generously donated products to the value of $1300 and another local electrical business donated $500. We also ran a chocolate fundraiser.”
So far, in the Relay for Life, Leigh’s Army have raised over $10,000, far surpassing their original goal of $2,500.
But for Bartsch, it’s not just about raising money.
“I’m happy even if one person reads Leigh’s story and goes and gets a regular health check. That has been my main goal this whole process – to try and raise awareness, and if we raise money along the way this would be a bonus.”
“My dream is to one day turn Leigh’s Army into a foundation and that way we can choose where the funds go. Stomach cancer has a pretty grim survival rate,” she says.
Like Leigh’s Army have done, anyone wanting to join in can make a team for Relay for Life by registering online; or they can go along to one of the many events to show support for the cause.
The Barossa Relay event promises a great day out with live entertainment, face painting and a bouncy castle for the kids, and Bartsch says her team is looking forward to catching up with the community and enjoying the day.
“As with last year we hope to catch up and reminisce with friends and family. Some people stay the entire duration and others come for a few hours – it doesn’t matter to us, we are happy to welcome their support. It is a great event which we thoroughly enjoyed last year and look forward to this year,” she says.
The Relay involves teams of 10-15 people who fundraise year-round. Everyone then meets at the event to celebrate their fundraising achievements and participate in a relay-style walk or run, with the challenge to stay on the track overnight.
Each event is unique and people can go along for a look or stay for the whole event by camping overnight and enjoying the activities and moving ceremonies.
If you’d like to show your support, you can donate to Leigh’s Army or any of the teams via the Relay for Life webpage.
The Barossa Valley Relay for Life will be held on 8th November at Faith Lutheran School, Tanunda commencing at 2:00pm and ending at 9:00am the following morning.
Story by Libby Parker
Photos courtesy of Kristie Bartsch