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Relay for Life 2019

Six years ago, Toni-lea Leach died from bowel cancer.

She was 44 years old and left behind a husband and five children.

Every two years her family get together to take part in the Relay for Life — a biennial fundraising event for the Cancer Society.

The 2019 Relay for Life is at Awapuni Sports Stadium on Saturday, March 16, and the Leach whanau will be out in force again.

They call themselves Toni’s Troopers, and this will be their fourth Relay For Life walk.

Money raised goes towards supporting cancer patients in this community and health promotion work to reduce the incidence of cancer.

“It’s our way of giving back on Toni’s behalf. She really wanted to do it for the Cancer Society,” said sister Ronnie Martin.

“Toni said she was so thankful to the Gisborne-East Coast Cancer Society for helping her and Brian (her husband) with travel and accommodation.”

Her treatment required trips to Wellington and Palmerston North but ultimately there was nothing doctors could do as Toni-lea’s bowel cancer was discovered too late — despite her going to two different GPs on numerous occasions.

By the time it was found, the cancer had spread and her condition was terminal.

Ms Martin said they missed her terribly, especially her kids, who were between 12 and 23 when their mum died.

“You have to move on but it’s like it happened yesterday; it’s still so clear.”

Ms Martin said her sister seemed to accept her diagnosis better than the family did. She had a great Christian faith and knew what she wanted to achieve in the time she had left.

When doctors gave her six months to live, Toni-lea felt she only had a month left. She was right. She died on February 3, 2013.

“Toni sorted her will out, she sorted everything out,” said Ms Martin. “I don’t know how she did all these things.”

Palliative Care was “excellent’ and provided wonderful end-of-life care.

Toni’s Troopers are going for “gold status” level in the funds they raise this year.

It’s a real family affair, including a sister in Australia who helps co-ordinate efforts from there even though she cannot attend on the day.

Ms Martin said they make it a family and fun day with a tent and plenty of food.

Even their mum (Anne), who is 78, joins in alongside Toni-lea’s children — pushing their own children in prams — her siblings, aunties, cousins and friends.

Toni-lea’s children carry around her photo, and one of her sons has walked over the duration of an entire relay — 24 hours.

“The family set up a memorial table in our tent of Toni and other family members and friends who have passed also, so when we walk past we can see them.”

Organised by Gisborne-East Coast Cancer Society, this year’s Relay For Life has been shortened from 24 to 12 hours, but as with other events will feature plenty of music and activities for the kids.

In a special event after dark, lights go out and the music stops for a poignant candlelight vigil.

There is also a memorial table on which people place photos of the loved ones they are walking for.

The Leach whanau will add another photo to that table this year as Toni-lea’s father (Tony) passed away last year from lung cancer.

He, too, will be remembered as they walk in turns for 12 hours.

DOING IT FOR MUM: Four of Toni-lea Leach’s children at the last Gisborne Relay for Life in 2017. Isaiah (left), Briar, Stuart and Marcus (absent is Brian) hold a picture of their mum as they walk around the track at Awapuni Sports Stadium. The biennial event is being held again next month to raise funds for people in Gisborne and on the East Coast who have been given a cancer diagnosis, as well as health promotion to help reduce incidence of cancer in this region. Picture supplied