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Prince George Relay For Life cancellation won't stop MP Doherty

Prince George-Cariboo MP intends to walk in his own cancer relay fundraiser, June 9-10
17 Relay For Life todd and cristian 1(1)
Cristian Silva, left, and Todd Doherty near the end of their 24-hour walk around the CN Centre parking lot in June 2021 in the virtual Relay For Life, which raised $73,509 for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Two months after he had his second knee operation, Todd Doherty vows he will be walking on that wounded leg, even if it means using a walker for balance, to take part in his own version of the Relay For Life cancer fundraiser.

The 54-year-old Prince George-Cariboo MP was saddened to learn over the weekend the Canadian Cancer Society has pulled the plug on the 24-hour relay, the city’s best-attended annual fundraiser, which has raised millions in the community for cancer research since it began in 1993.

The closure of the Canadian Cancer Society’s regional offices during the pandemic and the lack of volunteers on the local organizing committee are cited by the society as the reasons behind the cancelation of the 31st annual Relay For Life.

“It’s so disappointing, for so many years Prince George was that beacon  in the Canadian Cancer Society’s fundraising and the Relay for Life fundraising,” said Doherty. “Our 24-hour event was not just an event for our region but we had families from all over our province and even Alberta come here to spend the weekend with survivors and other families that lost loved ones and do whatever we could to raise funds for cancer research and cancer cure.

“This is such a short-sighted view for the Canadian Cancer Society. This was something that went beyond a fundraiser, it was something our community really rallied behind and now, more than ever, we need something like this to bring us all together. It’s deeply frustrating and disappointing that they would do that after so much dedication from the community to this event for so long, with very little assistance from the society on it.”

For 28 years, until it was interrupted by the pandemic, the Prince George relay brought thousands of people together each year for the 24-hour event. It was the country’s top Relay for Life fundraiser for a fourth consecutive year in 2017 and that year it raised more than $500,000.

“It’s my hope the relay comes back,” Doherty, who served on the organizing committee from 1999-2003.

 “Cancer doesn’t take a break and just because it’s hard to walk the 24 hours, the pain we feel pales in comparison to the fight of those who have cancer. Maybe this year it will look different, but hopefully we get enough groundswell that we can prove to the Canadian Cancer Society that we deserve a Relay For Life here.”

Doherty’s devotion to the relay stems from the number of close relatives of his and his wife Kelly who have had cancer. Kelly’s father died at their Prince George home less than a year ago after a lengthy battle with the disease. He knows how much it meant to people to light candles and place them in paper bags along the stadium track for the Luminary Lap to remember friends and family members.

In 2019, after field turf and a new running track were installed to upgrade Masich Place Stadium, concerns about damaging the facility prompted the city to move the relay to the Exhibition Park parking lot. With that move, Doherty said the event lost some of its intimacy and sense of community and he’s hopeful the city will find a way to return it to the stadium setting.

Having had his second knee replacement Dec. 14, Doherty intends to be healthy enough in four months to set up his trailer at CN Centre parking lot and complete his own walk, just like he did in 2021 when Relay For Life was cancelled by COVID.

“I’m resolved to still relay my way and I’ve set June 9th as my target date to be healthy to walk and do my part and I’ll still do that,” he said. “My goal is 24 hours and to raise as much money as I can and I know there are other incredible groups out there that will be doing the same thing.”