Although it is approaching a decade, Darlene Olsen's Creative Tables for Cancer fundraiser continues to be an evening of inspiration and entertainment that consistently sells out-and is forced to turn away both eager attendees and potential table hosts, year after year.
The 2016 edition of Creative Tables-its ninth- featured a record number of elaborately-themed tables that filled both the stage and floor of Arcola's Prairie Place Hall, where hundreds of women (and a few men) gathered for an evening of fun, fine dining, fellowship and fundraising for the 'Look Good, Feel Better' program and the Moose Mountain Medical Recruitment Committee. This year, there was a wait list of 60 individuals wishing to attend the fundraiser, and Olsen said she was also forced to turn down many who were willing to decorate and host an entire table of between eight to 10 diners.
“If anyone wants to host a table next year, please get in touch with me tonight or as soon as possible,” Olsen told the hundreds in attendance. “I think we're looking at an absolutely final deadline of February for next fall's Creative Tables, if we don't fill up before then.”
Even in a tough economy, the event's popularity continues unabated.
“It's a fun event and it's a great cause,” says first-time hostess, Jackie Doty of Kenosee Lake, who presided over an India-themed table.
Veteran hostess and breast cancer survivor, Delores Cutler of Carlyle agrees, adding: “I believe in the cause; I've been there, done that.”
One of this year's special guests was Sunita Prasad of the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation in Missisauga, Ontario, who described Olsen as “A force to be reckoned with.”
“Darlene's commitment to women and her commitment to this event is huge,” says Prasad. “Her work with 'Look Good, Feel Better' isn't about selling (Mary Kay) product. The product is just a vehicle that sets everything in motion. On one level, it allows her to fundraise and maximize those dollars, because The Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation donates 96 cents of every dollar raised directly to the charitable causes we support-which in addition to 'Look Good, Feel Better', also include supporting women who are experiencing domestic violence.”
“On another level, Darlene's hands-on work directly benefits women in Saskatchewan when she acts as a Team Leader at the (Allan Blair) Cancer Centre in Regina.”
Nicole Currie of Carlyle is a fervent supporter of Olsen's efforts and told the crowd about witnessing Olsen and 'Look Good, Feel Better' volunteers in action when she accompanied a friend who was undergoing cancer treatment to a session in Regina. The program-which is free of charge- is dedicated to empowering women to manage the effects of cancer and cancer treatments on their appearance
“(Look Good, Feel Better) does more for these women in one hour than you can imagine,” says Currie. “And Darlene and her helpers are an absolute blessing!”
Although Olsen received a standing ovation for her efforts, she insists: “It's not about me. I get much more back volunteering than I give. And I couldn't do any of it without the help of many, many other people.”
Like Olsen, one of those “other people” also received a standing ovation for her moving and heartfelt contribution to the evening. Shannon Shakotko of Forget spoke-and led a singalong-as a tribute to her “Beloved”-her husband, Don, who passed away from cancer just over a year ago.
Shakotko is the first Creative Tables guest speaker who spoke-not as a cancer survivor-but as a caregiver to a loved one who has the disease.
Her emotional and poignant speech addressed the theme of story and included a singalong which hinted at the story of the couple's relationship. Shakotko said that like Jame's Joyce's classic novel Finnegan's Wake-which ends mid-sentence: “That's how my beloved ended his big life, too.”
“But life is no less meaningful with fewer chapters,” added Shakotko and she delivered an uplifting and though-provoking dedication to her “Beloved” which she called, “My version of his credo- everything I needed to learn about life, I learned from my dying husband.”
She summed up by saying: “If Don were here to tell us one thing tonight, he'd say: 'Pay attention! Listen to your life.'”
Throughout the evening Olsen thanked individuals, businesses, organizations “and everyone who helps make Creative Tables for Cancer happen every year.”
“What I feel like this is, is people coming together who really care about other people. If all of us work together, miracles can happen.”