Fire truck signatures put cancer in perspective

Thousands have signed special fire trucks at fundraisers and events in support of cancer survivors and in memory of lost loved ones

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 15, 2014

Barry Stewart looks over the many signatures left on the pink fire truck he uses to raise awareness for cancer research. The truck has seen numerous signatures left on it through the past year by cancer survivors, as well as tributes to loved ones who died from the disease.

©Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald

A quick glance over Barry Stewart’s pink fire truck shows the large spectrum of cancer and how many it affects on Prince Edward Island.

The pink re-fitted truck and a newer black fire engine were both at the Queens County Relay for Life at Red Shores Charlottetown Driving Park Friday night and into Saturday morning.

The trucks were a major draw for participants, with cancer survivors signing the trucks as well as many others leaving tributes for loved ones who’ve died from the disease.

The idea began after Stewart’s wife Sharon died from cancer four years ago.

It was shortly after her death when Stewart bought the open cab fire truck on Kijiji, re-fitted it and covered it with pink vinyl wrap.

When he first took it to last year’s relay, Stewart had five colours individuals could sign the truck with.

Each one represented a different form of cancer.

“When you look at the truck you get an idea of the spectrum of cancers on P.E.I.,” said Stewart. “It was interesting last night. People came and they wanted to get the pens because they wanted to touch up the names put on last year that had faded.”

Stewart became a member of the 2014 Relay for Life’s Dream Team to raise awareness of the disease.

The team also includes nine other well-known Islanders, business owners and politicians who each have pledged to raise $5,000 for this year’s relay.

Seeing the trucks as his opportunity to contribute as a Dream Team member, Stewart identifies himself as representing the Parkdale-Sherwood Lion’s Club, event sponsor Credit Union and firefighters.

“I try to promote that as well. As a profession, firefighters have the highest rate of cancers,” said Stewart, who is a long-time firefighter. “It is a fundraiser but it’s also bringing awareness to cancer, I think that’s the bigger message.”

Stewart, like a lot of others, has had a number of family members affected by cancer.

However, he wasn’t what to expect when he started the initiative.

“I soon found out that it meant a fair bit to people to sign it,” said Stewart, who has had conversations with many of the individuals who’ve left names on the trucks. “It was more than I expected.”

The truck attended 70 events, festivals, and parades last year, including several proms. At many of those, Stewart found himself handing out sunscreen, brochures and prevention messages to thousands.

He’s even had individuals show up to his home while doing yard work asking if they could sign the truck.

And while Stewart planned on only doing the initiative for a year, because of the truck’s old age, the Parkdale-Sherwood Lion’s  Club and several other organizations pitched in to purchase the black truck.

That truck, which is newer and more road-worthy, also includes a big screen television that plays Canadian Cancer Society videos and, on Friday night, part of the NHL Stanley Cup final.

“It will be continued to be used for charity, I’m not sure how long we’ll leave it in it’s current wrap before we change it though,” said Stewart. “We’ll always align it to what’s important to the Lion’s Club, which is community.”