2012 conjures up some painful memories for Helen Dery.
Three of her family members were diagnosed with cancer in the past year.
Having lost her husband Fern to lung cancer 16 years ago, Dery learned her 48-year-old daughter had breast cancer, one of her grandchildren lost a kidney to the disease, and cancer forced the removal of one of her 17-month-old great-grandaughter's eyes.
Dery was on hand for Wednesday's announcement by the Canadian Cancer Society to promote the 21st annual Relay For Life, a mass-participation 24-hour march around the running track at Masich Place Stadium May 11-12 to raise funds for cancer prevention programs and research.
While the media gathering highlighted the tremendous success of last year's relay, which raised $494,000, second only to Coquitlam among the 501 relays staged in cities across Canada, Dery's presence served as a reminder why the relay is needed.
"It was quite a bad year," said the 83-year-old Dery. "Having three in the family with cancer gives me more power to keep going with the teams."
Dery has six children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. All of her kids live in the city and she never has any difficulty rounding enough of them up to cover the full 24 hours of the relay as part of two teams named after her husband -- Fern's Dream and Fern's Team.
Dery stays in shape so she can walk two hours in each relay, taking part in regular walks at the track and on a treadmill during the winter months. She also volunteers to phone local businesses to get them to sign up for the relay.
"It's a weekend of family getting together and my family all participates," said Dery. "I make a schedule to keep two people on the track at the same time."
"We'll have to work harder this year to be number one in Canada."
That challenge has been issued. Coquitlam, the only city to top Prince George last year, raised $552,000 with 1,101 participants on 112 teams.
"Our goal is to be the most generous and the most determined team in Canada to win this battle against cancer," said Relay for Life committee chair Trevor Patenaude. "'There are over 500 relays Canada-wide and to be number two in all of Canada, that's amazing. We are united and I don't care if you have 130,000 in your community or two million in your community, I believe we'll be the number one relay in Canada."
Prince George is the only city in Canada whose relay lasts 24 consecutive hours, and the 2012 relay drew 1,628 participants on 142 teams. The relays in Canada last year raised close to $51 million and involved 170,000 participants.
The early-bird deadline is Jan. 31 and early-registering teams of at least 10 people who raise a minimum of $350 each for the relay are eligible for a draw to win the use of the well-stocked luxury tent, which includes lounge chairs, couches, lighting, heating, pizza and coffee.
After Jan. 31 the registration fee jumps from $10 per person to $20 per person. All entries must be in by April 26. Go to relay.bc.ca for more information. Currently, 28 teams and 157 participants are pre-registered.
"This is a last-minute town and we have to get the word out and social media is a great way to do that," said Mayor Shari Green. "The tourism office in Prince George has a great campaign right now with TakeOnPG and the relay could be one of those things the Canadian Cancer Society could get on there. This event is something that pulls the community together and it's very meaningful because we remember the people we've lost and it gives hope to people who are fighting cancer but at the same time it can really be a fun event. There's a lot of spirit there."
n The Canadian Cancer Society will be moving its Victoria Street office on Feb. 15 to the new Kordyban Lodge at 1100 Alward St.