'She was only 21. That's too young'

University of Otago student Rachel Chamberlain thinks of her late friend Caitlin Hawthorn as she prepares for the 2014 Relay for Life today. Photo by Craig Baxter.
University of Otago student Rachel Chamberlain thinks of her late friend Caitlin Hawthorn as she prepares for the 2014 Relay for Life today. Photo by Craig Baxter.
When one of Rachel Chamberlain's best friends died from cancer, just days after turning 21, it brought home to her the fact it is not just an ''old person's'' disease.

Her long-time school friend Caitlin Hawthorn was diagnosed two and a-half years ago with three different types of cancer - intertwined-pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, carcinoma and sarcoma - and she died on February 23 this year.

''She was only 21. That's too young,'' Miss Chamberlain said.

''But she left an important legacy. Every day her death reminds me to make the most of every opportunity, because you never know when your number will be up.

''You don't expect cancer to affect you, but when it happens to someone so close to you ...

''It could easily have been me. It isn't an old person's disease. It can strike anyone, at any age.''

The experience inspired the 21-year-old University of Otago fourth-year human nutrition student to take part in the university's inaugural 2014 Relay for Life, which starts this evening.

Caitlin Hawthorn.
Caitlin Hawthorn.
''Doing the run is a way of remembering her and raising awareness among fellow students.''

Miss Chamberlain, who hails from Whangarei, will be one of about 1000 people who will run a circuit on the university's Union Lawn between 8pm tonight and 11am tomorrow.

One of those will be Southern Steel netball mid-courter Stacey Peeters, who is participating to pay tribute to her aunt, Jen Peeters, of Tauranga, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy.

Peeters will also be joined tomorrow morning by Southern Steel teammates Storm Purvis, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Gina Crampton, who will give Relay for Life participants the chance to pit their skills against the players in challenges, in exchange for a donation to the Cancer Society.

The overnight team event raises funds for cancer research, education and support programmes.

Teams of 10 or more participants will complete a relay-style walk or run over 12 to 24 hours. There will be a festive atmosphere, with teams camping overnight and enjoying free entertainment, games and spot prizes.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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