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Turning grief into motivation

Queen’s University team pushing to raise $200,000 during 15th annual Relay for Life fundraiser.

Cancer survivors are honoured during the 2019 Relay for Life at Queen's University. This year's event is being hosted Friday, March 20 at the Athletics and Recreation Centre. (Supplied photo)

Update: Due to ongoing concerns over COVID-19, the Relay for Life event has been cancelled. Find general information on the university's evolving response on the coronavirus COVID-19 information website.

When the unthinkable happens, it’s up to us to decide the best way forward. Olivia Kulbak lost her mother to leukemia when she was only 16 and, after living through that horrible moment, decided to dedicate herself to helping others and working to find a cure.

“One day, when I was in Grade 11, my mom came to me with strange bruises on her legs – she was very concerned,” Kulbak says. “We decided to go to the hospital and doctors found she had nearly zero platelets. She was diagnosed with leukemia on Easter weekend, but I still thought she would be fine, I hoped she would be fine. Unfortunately, she quickly slipped into a coma and a week later, she died.”

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Kulbak says she was very close to her mother and Relay for Life essentially saved her, giving her a new focus.

“Relay for Life started at my high school less than a month after her passing and I mustered up the courage and strength to participate," she says. "I took this grief I was experiencing and turned it into a drive and passion to help others in honour of my mom.”

The Queen’s University Relay for Life is set for Friday, March 20 in the Athletics and Recreation Centre and Kulbak, co-organizer Brandon Aldworth and the entire organizing committee have one goal this year – to raise $200,000 and become the top-earning postsecondary institution in Canada. Last year the Queen’s event raised $149,000 bringing the 14-year total to more than $700,000.

“What is critical this year is to have the community participate in order to reach that lofty goal. Kingston needs to realize this isn’t just a student event. We are inviting everyone including students, staff, faculty and community members. We need to join together,” says Aldworth, who is in his first year at the university. “I was really excited when I got to Queen’s to get involved in Relay for Life. I participated in the Relay during my four years in high school and the enthusiasm for the event in Kingston is contagious. There are 20 of us on the organizing committee and we all bring our own stories to the table. I’m particularly inspired by Olivia.”

The evening kicks off at 7 pm with a Survivors’ Victory Lap and runs until 7 am. A wide range of events will run during the 12-hour event including Zumba, live music, a silent auction, raffle, a beauty pageant, a "how well do you know your friend/partner" game show, karaoke, a "throwback challenge" game, and yoga. There will also be a few smaller activities which continue throughout the night including bracelet making, colouring, basketball, cornhole and foursquare. At midnight, everyone will join in a luminary ceremony to honour those who lost their battle.

The organizers are also looking to honour those who are currently battling cancer and for those who’ve conquered their battle to be honoured at the event. If you are interested in attending or have any questions please email relayforlifeatqueens@gmail.com.