A message of hope

Photo courtesy Sharon Trautmann The sun sets over the Hope sign along the Rotary Trail in Prince Albert. The sign originated at Relay for Life, and its message has been left across Prince Albert throughout the pandemic to bring a sense of hope.

The sign of hope that springs up each year during Prince Albert’s Relay for Life has been passed throughout the city this year – bringing its message to dozens in need. This past weekend, it returned to its original purpose as the centrepiece of Prince Albert’s annual summer cancer fundraiser

For Kami Karakochuk, May and June just aren’t the same without Relay for Life.

Karakochuk participates every year, and has been a part of the Prince Albert event since the first one.

“It’s just what I do,” she said.

The annual fundraiser, which supports the Canadian Cancer Society, was cancelled last year due to COVID-19. This year’s event was a little different. The event was held virtually over the weekend, which means participants raised money on their own and logged their own activity and walking hours for the event.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the virtual event raised $3.5 million across Canada. The Prince Albert event raised about $4,000. Donations are still accepted online until August 31 at https://support.cancer.ca.

Usually, the event lasts for several hours, with teams taking turns walking the track to remember those who have lost their fight with cancer, as well as cancer survivors. That track is usually lined with luminaries, each placed in honour of someone who has battled cancer.

The virtual walk meant there were no luminaries. 

In Prince Albert, in addition to the luminaries lining the track, Relay for Life also has luminaries arranged to form the word “hope,” accompanied by a sign with the same message.

Over the course of the pandemic, an individual known as the “hope man” has been placing this sign throughout the city. He wishes to remain anonymous as it’s about the message – not his placing of the sign himself.

Karakochuk is close to the hope man and thought of a way to incorporate the sign into her leg of the virtual Relay for Life.

Karakochuk had the sign brought to the track, and placed where it would normally stand during Relay for Life.

“We did some symbolic laps around the track,” Karakochuk said.

“The virtual relay was great – we raised funds, but there was that missing link. It was our way of paying tribute to Relay for Life.”

Karakochuk has seen multiple family members battle cancer. Her aunt and grandmother lost their cancer battles, and her father is a cancer survivor. This year’s event was different, “but we were still able to celebrate and remember,” she said, “and that’s the main thing it’s about.”

Karakochuk wasn’t the online Relay for Life regular to find a special home for the Hope sign.

Sharon Trautmann has also long been a part of the annual event.

A cancer survivor herself, Trautmann was involved for about ten years before she fought her own bout with the disease.

“It’s a very good cause,” she said. “Just about everyone has been affected by cancer in some way.”

Trautmann also knows the hope man. She had him place the sign along the riverbank, by the Rotary Trail. She had seen it there before, and remembered the impact the sign, and its message, had as people passed by.

“So many people stopped and had their pictures taken with it, or stopped and you could tell they were having their own little moment,” Trautmann said.

“It’s meaningful for a lot of people, and it’s a beautiful, tranquil setting.”

Trautmann said it’s been meaningful seeing the message of hope across the city during the pandemic.

“It’s very meaningful every time,” Trautmann said.

“When I see that sign, it reminds me of hope. But it also reminds me of all the people that are affected and all the people that work so hard to make a difference.”

Karakochuk has similar feelings.

“It reminds us that people are a community and there are people out there,” she said.

“Even though we’re pretty separated right now, we’re still part of that larger whole, and we need to keep looking out for one another.”

Karakochuk said that others, who know her connection to the hope man, will tell her of their gratitude every time they see it.

“It’s nice to see how many people these hope signs effect, and how it brightens their day,” she said.

“Or, if they were having a hard day, it makes it a little better. A lot of them have brought it up to me and have said ‘it came at just the perfect time – I saw this right when I needed to. There’s that little bit of serendipity there too.”

While the hope sign has continued its rounds across the city, the hope man has taken to leaving smaller messages around town. Others, inspired by his signs, big and small, have left their own messages in kind.

“I love it when HOPE is paid forward,” he told the Herald.

For those Relay for Life veterans and others who know the sign’s origins, it serves as a reminder for cancer survivors, those still in the midst of their fight, and anyone else who needs it, that they aren’t alone.

“You asked me what I think of when I see the Hope sign,” Trautmann said.

“The hope to survive. The hope for a cure. The hope that the cancer doesn’t come back. The hope to see my children grow up.

“The hope that anyone suffering right now might see this sign and be filled with hope.”