A big thing in common: fighting cancer

Published on June 20, 2014

Members of the Rays of Hope with team captain Karleigh Avery in the

foreground are, front row from left, Simone Scott, Maddie Cornett, Sienna

Avery, Bernadette Little, Tegan Marshall, Cara MacIvor, Mackenzie Bell,

Farah Soliman and Brittany MacFarlane. Back row, from left, Christopher

Avery, Griffin Lacasse, Tyler Green, Matt Russell, Daniel Campbell, Abigail

Mathias, Elizabeth MacFarlane, Ashlee Parker, Annika Mason, Jeanetta Millen

and Layne Carpenter. Missing from photo, Emily Elliott, Olivia Fraser,

Parker Hickey, Robbie Jones, Veronica MacFarlane, Hayley MacGregor, Danielle

McDonald, Shauna Parker and Erica Pirnie.

Rosalie MacEachern photo

NEW GLASGOW - Celebrate, remember, fight back.

It is the motto of the Pictou County Relay for Life and an easy one for 17-year-old Karleigh Avery, captain of Rays of Hope, the relay’s largest team, to remember. Today she celebrates her grandmother, remembers her grandfather and fights back because she can.

Karleigh’s paternal grandfather, Jobe Avery, lost his life to lung cancer four years ago.

“He was diagnosed with cancer and we hoped and prayed he would recover because he meant so much to us, but it didn’t happen.”

A year later, her maternal grandmother, Veronica MacFarlane, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Having one grandparent diagnosed just after you’ve lost another grandparent was pretty hard on my family.”

MacFarlane was even more than a grandmother, as she was principal of St. Joseph’s Academy in Stellarton which Karleigh attended from Primary to Grade 9.

“Between school and family, I saw her almost every day and we’ve always been very close so the thought of losing her was really hard. Fortunately, she recovered and is fighting back for herself and others. She is the kind of person who wants everyone to do their best and she brings out the best in people.”

Karleigh can hardly wait for to see MacFarlane take part in the survivor’s lap that officially opens the relay.

“My biggest cheer will be for her. She’s a big part of my life and it touches my heart to see her out there with all the people who have survived cancer.”

Karleigh took part in her first relay three years ago as a member of a Northumberland Regional High School team.

“People were so strong and motivated it really made an impression on me so the next year I captained a school team.”

Having just completed her first year in sciences at Dalhousie University, Karleigh was not sure how she could participate this year.

“I just decided to make up a team of people who wanted to be part of the relay. The biggest thing we have in common is that we all want to fight cancer.”

 She recruited family, friends and friends of family and friends. She insists it was not hard to come up with 30 people who have raised $3,507.80.

“I asked my boyfriend and friends who went to St. Joseph’s and NRHS with me and also friends from North Nova Education Centre. My sister Sienna asked her friends at Highland Consolidated and my brother Chris, the youngest member of our team, will also bring friends.”

Foremost on her team are her friend, Ashley Parker, and her mother, Shauna, who is a 12-year breast cancer survivor.

“I don’t have to motivate this group, they do that themselves with their own connections to cancer. Most team members are young people and I wanted to give them a chance to take part without having to organize a team, sort of get into it the same way I did. I want them to help out and have fun doing it. My hope is that after doing this a couple of times they will all want to bring their own teams.” 

She might not have to motivate her team but she will have to organize them and make sure they have enough food and drink to get them to midnight.

“My family is helping me all the way. My mother is very organized and dependable and all the family is involved in the relay.”

Helping with food, drink and logistics is no small undertaking for Karleigh’s mother who is expecting the family’s sixth child in a week.

“We’re a big family and a close family, a family that has certainly been touched by cancer so we’re pitching in to see what we can do with the help of our friends.”

Karleigh hopes to have all her team members do at least one lap together, perhaps more.

“I hope people will be encouraged to see such a large team relaying together.”

Being the oldest child in a big family probably has something to do with Karleigh’s organizational ability.

“A team of 30 is big and, sure, there are some challenges. I may have to deal with a few surprises along the way but when I take something on I want to do it right and this is pretty important to me.”


Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca