Relaying support

The Mitchell family speaks at City Hall to help kick off Relay for Life events in the city. The family includes, from left, Chelsea, who’s a cancer survivor, Cristyn (orange shirt), Sheldon, Cassidy (with glasses) and Shelley. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Relay for life kicks off Tuesday in Prince Albert

As a young soccer player, Chelsea Mitchell loved running up and down the pitch.

But after March in 2014, she didn’t know if she’d be able to walk again, much less kick a soccer ball.

At that time, the Prince Albertan had just completed a cell transplant in Calgary to, hopefully, remove her 520,000-plus cancerous white blood cells. Eight months prior, she had be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, about two months before starting grade 7.

“On June 16, 2013 (doctors) said that my white blood cell count was at 520-soemthing thousand. And the regular count is between 5,000 and 15,000,” she explained.

That led to eight months of unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments in Saskatoon.

“We moved to Calgary for four and half months,” she said.

A donor named Margaret in Poland provided the healthy cells to be used in Chelsea’s transplant.

“It was on my sister’s birthday, on June 26, that I had my biopsy and (doctors) said after that … ‘you have no more cancer cells, and it’s all 100 per cent donor cells.’”

Still, she said she longed to get back on the pitch.

“Getting back into soccer was probably the hardest part,” she said. “I could barely walk after the transplant, so learning how to walk – I couldn’t run – so learning how to walk again, that was hard.”

She’s now in Grade 11 at St. Mary high school and a part of the girls’ soccer team there.

Even getting to this point hasn’t been easy for her, post transplant, she explained. “Doctors can’t actually say cancer-free until two years after the transplant.”

“There were times there during those two years where I’d get sick and every time my family would get worried and we’d rush to the hospital.

“One time, I was sick for three weeks and we were really worried. But the doctors said it was just parvo, so there was nothing the could do about it.”

On March 20, 2016, she and her family got the news they had been waiting for: Chelsea was cancer-free, two years to the day post-transplant.

“It was a great accomplishment, to figure you overcame something so big. My family was so happy because they got to go home and not worry about this no more,” she said.

She and her family – father and mother Sheldon and Shelley and sisters Cassidy and Cristyn – were on hand at City Hall on Tuesday to help kick off events for this year’s Relay for Life, which is hosted by the P.A. branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.

“It’s unfair for anyone to face the loss of a loved one over such a disease,” Shelley said. “Our family just like any other has had many ups and many downs, but we truly feel blessed that Chelsea has beaten it.

“I truly believe that one day there will be a cure and this is how we can accomplish it,” she said acknowledging fundraising efforts associated with relay for life and the cancer society.

This year’s event in Prince Albert is different, because it will be changing venues to Kinsmen Park.

It will start at 12 noon on June 2 and end at midnight.

Participants will walk or run together on paths around the park for the event.

Another new item is the caregiver recognition lap which honours caregivers involved in supporting those battling and who’ve overcome cancer.

In 2017, P.A.’s Relay For Life raised over $125,000. There were 190 survivors registered to walk the Survivors Victory Lap, 29 teams with 254 team participants fundraised and walked the track, and 1100 luminaries were lit in honour or in memory of loved ones who have battled cancer, according to a press release sent by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Money raised through the event will go to support cancer research, support programs for people living with cancer and their families, education and information on cancer prevention and screening and advocacy for healthy public policies, the release stated.

So far this year, 15 participants have registered for the event.

The fundraising goal for 2018 is $110,000.

People or teams interested in registering for the event should contact the Prince Albert branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.