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Brandeis raises a whopping $77,000 to fight cancer

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Featured, Features


Brandeis’ Relay For Life last weekend coupled with the various events that the Relay committee held throughout the year raised $77,000 for cancer research, $12,000 more than last year.

At Relay For Life, a national event sponsored by the American Cancer Society, teams of people camp out around the track overnight and often sell baked goods, lanyards and souvenirs to raise money. While part of the team is raising funds, at least one member of each team presumably walks around the track in solidarity with those who have been affected by cancer.

Relay began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt of Tacoma, Wash., decided to raise money for his local American Cancer Society office by doing something he loved—running marathons. Klatt circled the track for 24 hours and raised $27,000. That was only the beginning.

Relay is an annual tradition at Brandeis but this year it had a somewhat different feel thanks to Hannah Katcoff ’12, the event chair. Among Katcoff’s responsibilities, she managed all the subcommittees, lead weekly meetings to iron out logistics and served as Brandeis’ liaison to the American Cancer Society. Katcoff became involved with Relay her first year at Brandeis “as a way to fight back to a disease that has taken far too much. Cancer has affected many of my family members, and Relay is a time to think about cancer’s huge impact,” Katcoff told The Hoot.

“For the first time ever we got food donations from several Waltham restaurants,” Katcoff said. “We made over $300 from selling dinner, which felt essential because of our time change.” In previous years, Relay was held from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m and this year it was held from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Katcoff continued, “We brought back the dunk tank (from 2009) and karaoke (from 2009 and 2010) … We introduced Zumba with Sarah Richardson [a Student Activities staff member] which participants enjoyed very much.”

While the Relay committee instituted several changes to the actual event, they also used other events to raise Relay’s profile on campus. “While Relay remains an important and powerful even on campus, I feel like it has grown tremendously and has become a staple on Brandeis campus,” Katcoff said. “Part of my goal this year was to make Relay a year-long event. I wanted to spread awareness and raise money year-round. Hence, we put on Jail and Bail, Rumba with International Club and Relay For Lit.”

Holding Relay events throughout the year both raised more money and got students excited about participating. This year’s Relay had many more participants than last year’s event. “We had 88 teams and 858 people registered this year,” Katcoff said. “Last year we had 80 teams and 795 participants.”

Despite the increase to Relay’s crowd, the event seemed smaller. There always seemed to be less people walking around the track at any given time than there had been in previous years and by 1 a.m. many participants had left, leaving the Gosman gym eerily empty. “I want to say that other St. Patrick’s Day celebrations prevented students from staying the entire time, but when I asked around, it seemed that people were leaving because they had exams this week,” Katcoff explained. She also believes that some people left earlier than in past years because the evening began earlier, “so I feel like by [midnight], people were starting to go home because they had already been in Gosman for seven hours.”

In future years, Katcoff hopes that faculty and staff will become more involved with Relay. “Every year we try to encourage faculty and staff to come participate in Relay,” Katcoff said. “Some express interest, but there usually isn’t much follow up. Members from Dining Services and Department of Community Living participate and President Lawrence and Andrew Flagel came this year. I would like to see Relay become more of a Brandeis community event in the future.”

Ceremonies

Every Relay For Life in this country is different, from the teams participating to the activities offered. Yet, constant in every Relay is the three ceremonies that take place in the course of the event.

The first ceremony is the Survivors Lap in which cancer survivors proudly circle the track to show that they beat cancer and to celebrate the victories of those around them.

The last ceremony, held at 2 a.m., is the Fight Back ceremony in which participants pledge to fight back against this disease and not remain passive. Some personal pledges include a promise to quit smoking or to go to regular doctor check-ups. “I wish that the Fight Back ceremony had been earlier in the night,” Katcoff said, “so that participants could experience all three ceremonies.”

It is the middle ceremony, however, that really shows the effects cancer has had on so many lives. Although the ceremony took place at 10:30 p.m., participants began preparing for it earlier in the night. Small paper bags were decorated and dedicated to those who have had cancer and, directly before the ceremony, glow sticks were placed in these bags to illuminate them. In the center of Gosman Gym stood a giant Luminaria bag on which participants could write personal messages to loved ones affected by cancer.

At the appointed time, the lights in the gym were dimmed and every participant gathered around the giant bag to throw glow sticks into it. The ceremony begins slowly, with survivors coming forward each to throw a glow stick into the bag. Then, more people come forward to honor parents, offspring and siblings affected by cancer. It is the final part of the ceremony, however, that never fails to move many people to tears.

People who have had a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. who has been affected by cancer are welcomed to throw glow sticks into the bag. At this point, nearly the entire room surged forward and it took nearly a minute for everyone to finish throwing their glow sticks into the bag. Seeing the amount of people who have been affected by cancer, either personally or through a relative or family friend always moves students beyond words.

“I have participated in Relay for Life for a number of years in my hometown, and found the Luminaria ceremony to be extremely meaningful and moving,” Judith Giller-Leinwohl ’15, a Luminaria co-chair, told The Hoot. “At the beginning of the year I was on general committee, but when the position for Luminaria co-chair opened up and I was offered the spot, I was very excited! It means a lot to me … my mom passed away from cancer when I was 13, and I find the Luminaria ceremony a time to look back on that loss and connect with others affected by cancer.”

“I was drawn to the Luminaria committee following my first Brandeis Relay For Life experience,” Sarah Hirsch ’12, a Luminaria co-chair, said. “Seeing the Brandeis community come together to grieve collectively and share an extremely emotional moment with each other was amazing to me. Once I was on the other side of the ceremony, each picture and name that I was sent was a piece of someone from our community. To me that was the most important and rewarding part, being the outlet for someone to share their story, their love, and their memories.”

Directly before the Luminaria ceremony, Giller-Leinwohl and Hirsch showed two slideshows; one, a staple of the Brandeis Luminaria ceremony, featured the names and images sent in by Brandeis students of the people close to them who had or have cancer. The other slideshow was recently made by the American Cancer Society in honor of caregivers. During these slideshows the Brandeis a cappella group Starving Artists performed Sarah Mclachlan’s “Angel.”

“I think this year’s Luminaria ceremony went very well,” said Giller-Leinwohl. “Knowing how many people have been affected by cancer, knowing the pain that accompanies any encounter with the disease, our hope is that the ceremony allows everyone affected by cancer to come together and realize no one is alone in the fight.”

Shaving it up

One of the odder fundraising methods occurred at 1 a.m. when four boys shaved for the cause. Kevin Landsman ’12 shaved his entire head and half his beard at around midnight to show those still awake how insane it was and to urge them to donate more money. Each of the four boys, not including Landsman, were given certain amounts of money they needed to collect and, if they collected that money between midnight and 1 a.m., they would shave. While shaving one’s head is a fun way to raise money, it is also an act of solidarity with those who have lost their hair to cancer treatments.

The first boy to shave at 1 a.m. was Jeremy Fineberg ’12 who shaved his iconic beard. Although Fineberg only had to raise $50 to shave his beard, he raised a lot more as all of his friends put money into his can while cracking jokes at his expense. After counting his money, Fineberg climbed the makeshift stage in the center of Gosman and allowed himself to be shaved.

“I had that beard for two and a half years,” Fineberg said. “I had no desire at all to shave my head, but I figured that there were enough people who were interested in seeing me without facial hair who would be willing to donate money to a great cause.” He was right.

“It feels very different, a little cold actually,” he continued. “Also many of my friends keep making jokes about me looking like a 12 year old.”

Nathan Young ’15 shaved his entire head after raising his money; beforehand he had sported long, curly locks of hair. “I wanted to shave my head as soon as I saw it was an event,” Young said. “Before I got donations I felt as if I was not obligated to do it, and sometimes when I told a friend I wanted to do it, it was just to see his or her reaction. But once I got donations, I felt compelled.”

Jeremy Perlman ’14 possibly underwent the most drastic depilation. Perlman not only shaved his long beard but also cut off eight inches of hair to donate to Pantene. “I was getting a little nervous about cutting my hair … but I knew I would cut it soon anyway, so I went through with it,” Perlman told The Hoot. “I started growing my hair out in freshman year of high school and my last haircut before this one was the summer before my first year at Brandeis.”

In order to cut so much hair, Perlman had to raise $200. At the time of Fineberg’s shaving, Perlman was just shy of $200 as he walked around with his bucket of money. He had a bucket whereas the others had cans because he had to collect so much more. Once Perlman appealed to the small crowd, however, they quickly donated the rest of the money, going beyond the previously needed $200.

The last boy to shave his head was Rohan Narayanan ’15. He had his fellow teammates, who all live in Renfield in Massell Quad, come on stage and they each got a turn to shear their teammate. “I originally decided to shave my head for Relay when a friend of mine saw the head shave challenge announcement in a Student Union e-mail and suggested that I do it,” Narayanan said. “I actually made up my mind not to, until they called my name, and I decided that it would be a lot of fun and a great way to raise some more money.”

As his friends were shaving his head, Narayanan kept worriedly asking, “What’s going on?” and “Is everything OK?” Although Narayanan came off the stage with a few nicks here and there, he was no worse for the wear—just bald.

The individuals who comprise Relay

Eighty-eight teams participated in this year’s Relay For Life and, although each team was drawn together for a different reason, they each endeavored to raise money to fight cancer and to have a good time. It would be impossible to discuss each team involved in Relay but this sampling shows the diversity of the teams.

One team, the Organic Onco-Fighters, was composed almost entirely of students taking organic chemistry this year. “We decided we would embody the science wholeheartedly!” Elizabeth Allen ’14, the team’s captain, said.

Allen, who is majoring in Classical Studies and Neuroscience on the pre-med track, is one of the Survivorship Chairs for Colleges Against Cancer. “I enjoy raising money and awareness for a disease that had affected and hurt—yet inspired—so many,” Allen said.

Although this was only Allen’s second time participating in Relay—her first time was last year as a first-year—she has grown to love Relay. “As a cancer survivor, I feel that Relay is such a wonderful way to celebrate life,” Allen said. “It’s such an amazing feeling to be surrounded by caring friends and other supportive people. If anything, I would say Relay has a stronger, deeper meaning for me than most people. I feel personally connected, and I embrace the energy and excitement of the event because I know all too well that cancer never sleeps.

“I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004 when I was 11,” Allen continued. “I had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and now I’m cancer free! My amazing family, friends and community are what got me through the tough times, and I love them so much. I feel like being a survivor gives me a whole new outlook on life; I realize now how precious it is, and I plan to enjoy and make the most of every minute.”

While Allen’s team, Organic Onco-Fighters, was drawn together by their class, the Best Union of Cancer Opposers (BUCO) was drawn together by religion (BUCO also stands for Brandeis University Conservative Organization). The 16-member team “participated in Relay For Life in the name of tikkun olam, which in the literal Hebrew means repairing the world. We came together to honor those who have passed from cancer and to support those who are still suffering in our effort to repair the world and make it a better place,” Tali Friedland ’14, BUCO’s team captain, said.

To raise money, the team sold temporary tattoos and sandwiches made from things such as fluff and Nutella; they even provided fun cookie cutters so one could shape one’s sandwiches into ducks or stars.

“My grandmother survived breast cancer, and my grandfather has been living with lymphoma for over a decade,” Friedland said. “I participated to support them as well as to support my friends and their family members. And I was especially proud to participate with BUCO this year in our mission to make the world a better place.”

The team Dakota’s Love Pals, led by Lauren Gendzier ’12, is different from many of the other teams at Relay in that the members were not joined together by a club or a class but by pure friendship. “Having a team of friends that is not centered on a specific club or activity has its advantages and disadvantages,” Gendzier said. “Sometimes friends will not join my team because they are expected to join other teams. When my friends are able to join, however, they encourage their friends to join and it makes for a fun way to get more people involved who might not have gotten involved because they didn’t have a team to join.”

The team raised money by selling baked goods and lanyards for participants to play with as they walked around the track. Several customers joked that the lanyard, which was the colors of Relay, purple and white, reminded them of summer camp.

“I was one of the founders of a club in high school called Lake Brantley Love Letters where we would write letters and send gifts to critically and terminally ill children,” Gendzier said. “My junior year, I found out that the four-year-old daughter of one of my dad’s coworker named Dakota had a brain tumor … When I decided to form a team at Brandeis’ Relay for Life my first year, I decided that ‘Dakota’s Love Pals’ would be the perfect name.” Gendzier plans to continue participating in Relays after she graduates as the leader of Dakota’s Love Pals.

The team Allied Against Cancer, made good use of their name as this Triskelion-funded team invited “allies” of all identities to participate. “My team guarantees a safe space for all members, regardless of sex, gender or sexual orientation,” Naomi Rodriguez ’15, Allied Against Cancer’s team leader, explained.

To raise money, the team sold rainbow-colored cupcakes and kosher rainbow lollipops, and Triskelion President Halee Brown ’13 taught passersby how to make gimp bracelets. Their most successful fundraiser was henna, which a few teams were offering.

“I found out about Relay for Life in high school,” Rodriguez said.  “We come together to share in the pain of loss; then we are revitalized by mutual understanding and shared determination to prevent this horrid disease from taking any more of our loved ones.

“We honor those who have won the fight, we support those who are still struggling and we remember those who fought so hard, but lost the battle. We fight back for them.”