My Journey with Relay - Guest Blog Post from Belgium

My story with cancer began somewhere in 2006 with a personal connection that I had. Tinneke was in our group. I didn’t know what she was experiencing, other than that she had a lot of head aches, major head aches. She was a fellow student, just like me.

I got to know her more after a few more classes. We were tree-buddies because we hugged a tree and shared our experiences with each other but also with the rest of the group.

Suddenly in 2008 I got an email saying she had something strange going on on May 7th and that she went to her doctor and got transferred. And that began her long journey. The letters and courage she had to fight it, the inner strength for life she demonstrated on a daily basis sent us a message. She had 5 rounds of chemotherapy for her cervical cancer, which eventually spread to her lungs. But she didn’t give up! She stood there in her own strength and determination. July 10th, 2009 was our last contact trough email. An email that took the ground right under my feet.

This was her inner strength.

I want to go for it! I want to fight for it and I hope you’ll do the same together with me!!!
I want to try and enjoy every day I get, because each day is a gift, a precious gift. First I really want to do my best to fysically strengthen and get back on my feet because I’ll need that strenght to keep holding on. I know I need to be realistic and keep in mind that it can end badly. But even then I still have time to take care of all the things I need to do. But for now on I mainly want to focus on the strenght that’s still here, for as long as it’s here and I keep feeling it, there’s hope.
If I’m up for it, I’ll check my emails as often as I can when I get home, now that I don’t have fevers anymore. But at home I have oxygen, I also sleep with the oxygen because it helps me to breath, talk,… but they don’t get me down that easily! There’s so much strenght left, and I know a lot of people have faith in me, together we’ll go for it!

These were her last words that I got to read from her. Months of waiting and searching… no answer…Until I heard from someone else from the course, saying she passed away sometime July 2009. Her words were graved into my heart.

In April 2007, another good friend of mine came to visit me. She was hospitalised for a kidney infection. With following results from the examinations:

"Dion", she said, "please sit down."

“Yes Riet, I will sit down”, I said.

I’ll never forget her words.


I didn’t know what I heard, Riet & Willy were great neighbours and friends of mine. I was always welcome at their place… but in April 2007 she told me this.

After catching my breath for a while, I asked her for more explanation.
"Yes, I have skin cancer (she tested her blood every month at the hospital). Skin cancer in the final stages. The only thing my specialist said that I could do was sign papers for euthanasia and that I could go."

This was too much! I was still dealing with the loss of my own father. I had to learn to deal with it, with all the confrontations that went along with it…

The cards I still draw these days were on Riet’s request and I will always keep making them for her.

I kept visiting her and we had long talks. Her motto was: don’t give up, own the strength to fight and move on!

Unfortunately, Riet passed away September 28th, 2007.

This was too much for me. 2 losses in 1 year.

Years went on…

Suddenly I got a request.

Dion, would you be up for it to make something for our Relay For Life?

I never heard of it so I didn’t know what it was. This was in 2013.

And that’s how my story began where I got involved with Relay For Life.

A torch of hope, in Sint-Truiden! Yes, a torch honoring Tinneke & Riet for myself, but during the making of it, I soon realised they weren’t the only ones. No, there were so many of them, it astounded me! And that’s how I shared into volunteering for RFL. I’m still in contact with some of the fighters and other volunteers.

That Saturday, I stood there, realizing the purpose of a luminaria bag. I finally was able to give it all a place. The torch of Hope & Life.

But it didn’t end there. It’s an experience that really touched me, made me aware of what it does to a whole community.


It went deep… and when I finished building that torch on Friday, I took my flute out of my bag and played on it. It stuck, it got a purpose and deep inside me that purpose became a calling. A voice inside of me made me realize, Dion, what if you can do this at a luminaria ceremony, in absolute silence… that would be great! Not just for me but for all those who are dealing with something, anything….

For all those, sharing something in energy, strength, not giving up the power, to be connected.

Sunday they announced that every fighter could write a message on my sculpture. This was my main purpose. It wasn’t only my sculpture, but also so many others.

Suddenly a woman with 3 children came up to me, crying, asking me if she could write something down on the torch; this touched me deeply, made me even cry. Also seeing a little boy comforting his mother, touched me deeply. This doesn’t escape you, not as an artist or a photographer.

2014 came and the request for me to make something and do something at the luminaria ceremony came as a gift. This was very important to me. Because time doesn’t stand still and neither does life. When I went to Saffraanberg in October 2014 in Sint-Truiden and saw all those people who were participating and seeing all those fighters (survivors), I realized the impact of all of this. And I was the one who got to play on my flute. An experience I wasn’t going to let me pass by. An experience that made me realize what Tinneke & Riet also did, not giving up and keep standing up with your own strength. And that’s how I shared the energy trough my flute.

Relay For Life came into my life and it’s still here. I got to know people who really touched my heart, got to know people around me with pure energy inside of them. People who have characters you need to deal with but who also have a purpose in their lives. People who are fighters.

You can feel the energy, and that’s when we got to Hasselt in 2015. On Friday I went to have a look and I saw half a circle with empty chairs at the stage. A lot yes, and this made me really realize how many people are involved in this and will be there as a fighter. It gave me goosebumps.

As a volunteer, I became aware of all the things you can give to people

This is my road at this moment for Relay For Life. One that goes further step by step each day.