Dundas, Ont., teen Shari Levine understands all too well the urgent need to find a cure for cancer.
Having battled and beaten thyroid cancer when she was just 15 years old, the 17-year-old Highland Secondary School senior has been determined ever since to join the fight against the debilitating disease.
“I knew that from my own experience with cancer it was important to get involved and give back to others. It made me see how terrible a disease it is, and I don’t want anyone to have to suffer through it again,” Levine said.
“I know so many other close family friends and relatives who have suffered from it and… I want to help find a cure.”
Levine was diagnosed in February 2010 and had surgery to remove the tumour just two months later. After undergoing radioactive iodine treatment, Levine was declared cancer-free in June of that year.
While some may have been tempted to put the nightmare behind them and move on from the experience, Levine saw an opportunity to give back.
“My friend approached me about the [Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life] and asked if I wanted to start a team,” she said.
“Soon after, we got a team together which is made up of 17 of my really good friends called Shari’s Soul Sisters.”
The 12-hour relay, which has run annually for the past five years at the Ancaster Fairgrounds, brings together teams of fundraisers for the overnight event held from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on June 22.
The teams pitch tents and take turns walking around a track, symbolizing the fact that cancer never sleeps.
Participants are treated to live entertainment, games, food and a huge silent auction, as well as a luminary ceremony, during which hundreds of luminaries bearing the names of cancer victims are lit.
“Later in the night, survivors speak, and it’s just really emotional and a great time,” Levine said.
The first year Levine took part in the fundraiser, she accumulated $13,800 from family, friends and complete strangers who learned about her story.
She was awarded the first-ever Infinite Hope Award for being the highest fundraiser under the age of 18 in Ontario.
Last year, Levine raised $10,200, and this year she’s a little more than $2,000 shy of her $10,000 goal.
Determined to reach her goal for a third straight year, Levine stressed that people can continue to donate until the end of July by visiting tinyurl.com/7y57dpk.
In addition to her fundraising efforts, Levine has spent the last couple years acting as a youth spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society, which allows her to share her survival story and inspire others.
“I just had a cancer-awareness assembly at my school, where I shared my story and shared a video about my story, and I’ve travelled to other schools and spoke there for different events,” she said.
“I love speaking… because at the first year at the relay when I spoke during the luminary ceremony, someone contacted my mom afterwards and said… she used parts of my speech to speak to her son when he got diagnosed and it inspired him, so that was rewarding.”
Although Levine is cancer-free, she said she still has some bad days.
“I’m still so tired, either from the surgery or the radioactive iodine treatment – we don’t really know what’s causing it. But I still get really tired and some days it’s hard to get out of bed, and my immune system is a lot lower so I get frequent infections, one after another after another.”
Since her recovery is taking a little longer than she anticipated, she decided to take a year off before enrolling in university to fully recuperate.
But Levine, who maintained a 95 per cent average before she started getting sick, isn’t letting her recovery keep her from volunteering and giving back to her community.
“I volunteer at my synagogue, Temple Anshe Shalom, and I’ve been involved with both the youth groups,” she said, adding that she was on the executive for both the Temple Anshe Shalom Cool Crew, as well as the Temple Anshe Shalom teen youth group.
“Also, at school, there’s a social action club called Haven and I’ve been involved for all four years of high school.”
She said the group organizes fundraisers and food drives for non-profit groups.
But for now, Levine is focusing her attention on graduating from high school and reaching her goal for the Canadian Cancer Society.
“I would be so grateful to anyone who’d be willing to donate, and I hope together we can find a cure for cancer.”