Global Relay For Life events are held in more than 3000 communities across 31 countries. They are held in celebration of cancer survivors and caregivers in honour of those whose lives have been lost and with the aim of raising funds for lifesaving education and support programmes in the fight against cancer.
Sr Olwage was so moved by the community spirit and the uplifting atmosphere at the Relay event that she began volunteering year after year. She is also a Zumba instructor in her spare time and started organising Zumba events to help raise additional funds. At the recent 2023 CANSA Relay For Life event a total of R97 000 was raised, with Sr Olwage’s team – named ‘Happy Feet’ – being awarded the trophy for the team that raised the most funds towards this amount.
“I found so much meaning in playing my part to help others affected by cancer – I simply had no idea I would soon be living with the disease myself. As a fit and active healthcare professional, I was bewildered when I felt a lump in my breast shortly before last year’s Relay For Life, and it was surreal when just a few days later I was having a mammogram under the urgent advice of my doctor,” she notes.
“It came as an absolute shock to receive a positive cancer diagnosis. Now it was my turn to walk that path and while it felt like everything was snowballing between the operation, the chemotherapy and all the doctor’s visits, I did my best to maintain a positive attitude. I thought of my friend who had successfully overcome cancer and that motivated me.
“I am also fortunate enough to have an incredible support system in my family, my friends and colleagues and I leaned heavily into my work as an occupational nurse – even on the bad days, continuing to work at the hospital gave me a sense of purpose and helped to take my mind off the cancer.
Sr Olwage says that while she is still going for follow-up appointments, she has completed her treatment and now feels better than ever before. “Having said that, the most recent Relay event that we did this year was extremely emotional – each step that I took meant something quite different to me: I now have an entirely new perspective. I am humbled to have received this title of Global Hero and my aim is now to take on more responsibility in using every opportunity to spread the message of hope and to continue raising funds,” she says.