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Photo by Richard Leitner

Photo by Richard Leitner

Everyone of Team AJA’s members and supporters, including Kathy King (left), Justin D’Olimpio, Lindsay Bannon, Rob King, Chloe Guja, Marianne Spears and captain Connie Spears, has been personally touched by cancer.

Team AJA fights cancer in any language

Relay for Life members all have personal connection to disease

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

When Connie Spears and friend Kati Sackett decided to enter a team in the Hamilton Relay for Life three years ago, their choice of a name reflecting their personal loss turned out to be serendipitous.

Team AJA takes its name from the initials of the first names of Spears’ father Allan and younger sister Amy, and Sackett’s mom Judy, all victims of cancer. As a Google search found, “aja” also means “fight” in Korean.

“It’s something that they call out in fighting matches,” Spears says. “We were psyched: ‘That’s perfect! Fight!’ That’s exactly what we’re doing because that’s all we can do right now, is fight.”

Spears, whose mom Marianne is also on the team, lost her dad to neuroendocrine cancer six years ago this August. Just a year and a half later, breast cancer took Amy.

She blames stress, rather than genetics, for both deaths.

“It was incredibly difficult, especially so close together. You’re not even over one when the next one hits you,” Spears says.

“Even after we lost my dad, we were dealing with my sister being sick and so there was no proper time for grieving, I don’t think, for a long time.”

Team AJA is among 115 teams registered for the annual relay being held at Dofasco Park in upper Stoney Creek on June 6 and 7.

Fellow member Justin D’Olimpio saw both of his grandparents die from cancer exactly a year apart when he was in his mid-teens.

“That was a tough one because they were kind of like second parents to me,” he said. “I spent a lot of time (with them), after school, weekends.”

Team AJA is hosting its second annual Whole Health Wellness Fair to raise money for the fight against cancer this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at BodynSol, 382 West 5th Street (corner ofSouth Bend Road West).

The fair will be preceded by a garage sale at 8 a.m. and feature raffles, 50/50 draws, face painting, massage therapy, Reiki, yoga and other alternative therapies.

The event hits home for BodynSol owners Rob and Kathy King. They have friends who have cancer, and Rob not only lost his dad to the disease but also beat kidney cancer two years ago.

The Kings and Spears all see prevention as the best strategy against cancer, one that includes exercise, eating well, relieving stress and a healthy lifestyle.

“There’s over 200 different kinds of cancer, so there’s no one cure. It’s almost like an insurmountable task, so if we can teach people how to prevent cancer, prevention is an ounce of cure,” says Spears, who believes stress played a key role in cancers that killed her sister and an aunt.

“They were stressed out because of their lives. If they had different tools in their toolbox, they might have been better prepared to deal with the cancer.”

As for the relay itself, Spears says there are two points that inevitably draw tears – the survivor’s lap and the luminaries that honour those who didn’t make it.

But her team also tries to have fun. D’Olimpio entered a 4 a.m. beauty contest last year dressed as a woman.

“A big part of the relay is about hope,” Spears says. “It’s not just about the loss and devastation that comes with cancer; it’s about hope for the future and hope for the cure.”

For more on the team’s fundraiser, visit http://convio.cancer.ca/goto/TeamAJA.

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