Mid-afternoon Saturday, participants of the annual USF Relay for Life fundraiser began to move into Negoesco Field, pitching their tents and laying down pillows and blankets. Each year, students and community members work and walk together to raise funds for cancer research through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. For eight years now, the USF community comes together for this event to honor survivors and remember those lost to the disease.
Participants spent 24 hours playing games and walking around the outer part of the field to symbolize the journey of those fighting cancer. While not every participant stays up for the entire 24 hours, teams participating in the event make sure they always have a team member awake or walking the area around the field because, as the American Cancer Society says, “cancer never sleeps.” During the Survivor Lap, the first lap of the event, all of the participants that have survived cancer walked around the field to celebrate their victory over cancer, and a Caregiver Lap is walked in honor and recognition of those who have given care to cancer patients.
The pain of losing a family member or friend to the devastating disease is one that never disappears, but the fight for survival that many endure every day is a never-ending reminder of the need for an event such as Relay for Life. Caitlin Hurley, USF Relay for Life committee leader and a three-year veteran of the event, echoes these sentiments. “The goal for today is that our whole community come out, and rally behind a cause so that we can reach a common goal together,” said Hurley.
During the planning for the event, committee members decided to set a fundraising goal of $25,000. Hurley said that any funds earned from the event would go to not only further the development of cancer research, but to help pay for services such as transportation to doctor’s appointments, and beauty products patients may need in order to help them feel more comfortable.
Hurley also mentioned that 22 teams had signed up to participate in the event and that, in total, the committee expected over 300 people to show up. Different clubs and organizations set up base on the outskirts of the field, making each area unique to their liking. Teams included the ASUSF Senate, Kappa Alpha Theta, Delta Zeta, Alpha Sigma Nu, Pi Kappa Phi, and many more school organizations. Freshman Catherine Delcrognale, a member of Delta Zeta sorority, was excited for several activities before the day’s events took place. “I’m looking forward to the Silent Disco dance that’s happening tonight at midnight. There’s also a tug of war, that’ll be fun too,” she said earlier that afternoon.
Hurley said the events that best encapsulated the meaning and the goal of the fundraiser were the Opening ceremony, and the Luminaria and Fight Back ceremonies. The Opening Ceremony is where cancer survivors receive the opportunity to speak about their battle with the disease, and the importance that Relay for Life plays for current victims. The Luminaria Ceremony is the service remembering those lost, and those still fighting the disease. This ceremony takes place after dark. Candles are lit inside of personalized bags and then placed around the walking course, the glow serving as a tribute to those who have been affected by cancer. The event then closes with the Fight Back Ceremony, where participants and committee members agree to continue helping improve lives by spreading awareness for cancer research, treatment, and prevention. During the Fight Back Ceremony, a member of the committee, Laura Stafford, rallied those present with a powerful speech about what she experienced in her own family. She recounted the firsthand experience of witnessing a patient receive the devastating news of being diagnosed. “I think this speech was a wonderful, touching revelation that we Relay for reasons. For Laura, it is in hopes that nobody ever has to hear the words ‘you have cancer’ again,” said Lina Galeai, team ambassador for the Relay committee.
The amount raised ended up being short of the $25,000 goal, totaling at nearly $21,000, but according to Galeai, that number continues to climb, and fundraising is open until August, so they remain optimistic. According to the American Cancer Society, participants of USF’s Relay for Life fundraiser make up a group of more than 4 million people worldwide that contribute to the event, and it is also one of more than 5,000 other communities taking part in the fundraiser. USF is contributing to the more than $3 billion already raised since 1985 by the largest nonprofit fundraising event in the world, taking place in 19 countries outside the United States. In 2015, The American Cancer Society will look to use the money raised through Relay for Life to help an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer patients, 172,090 of which will be diagnosed in California.
After a student of hers was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Barbara St. Mary, Assistant Director of the St. Ignatius Institute, decided to start her own team at USF’s Relay for Life. “Two years ago one of our students was diagnosed with cancer and died, so that motivated us to join the event,” St. Mary said. Since those two years, St. Mary’s group has raised more money than any other during that same span.
Photo courtesy Kristian George/Foghorn