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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Relay for Life displays hope, promise and a commitment to ending cancer

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Featured, News

In a display of coordination and generosity, Brandeis hosted its seventh annual Relay for Life last Sunday, March 23 and raised over $42,000 for cancer research.

Relay for Life is a community-based event that takes place nationwide, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. As its most successful fundraiser, Relay raises money for both cancer research and for improving the quality of life for cancer patients and their caretakers.

At Brandeis, Gosman Athletic Center hosts the 12-hour event, and this year over 667 participants across 61 teams signed up for the fight against cancer. This year, the event, which took almost a year of planning, campaigning and fundraising, was co-chaired by Judith Faye Giller-Leinwohl ’15 and Lindsay Fitzpatrick ’16. From 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., teams camped out around the track, selling food and souvenirs to raise money. For Foti Andromidas ’15, at his third Relay for Life, the many different kinds of food were overshadowed by something even better.

“The bounce house was simply incredible. I wish the track was made of that stuff so I could have bounced my way around it,” Andromidas said.

Members of each team take turns walking around the track while games and activities, including the bounce house, provided built-in entertainment for an event that kept participants engaged all day long.

Feedback from last year’s Relay committee indicated that the event could be even bigger with more publicity. The publicity committee, headed by Talia Holtzman ’15 and Dylan Schlesigner ’15, spread the word with a number of events that started as far back as the beginning of first semester.

Jail and Bail is a fundraising and awareness event held in the fall, where students and faculty are jailed and need to raise money for bail. This year’s new event, Passport to Relay, informed students about Relay with a passport-stamping frenzy that rewarded them with pizza at the end. The committee focused on reaching out to first-years, who may or may not have been previously introduced to this event, to ensure they are incorporated into the Relay culture and will maintain the Brandeis tradition.

Three weeks before the event, volunteers stormed Massel Quad, North Quad and the Village during Paint the Campus Purple Week. Fitzpatrick thinks this was an important step in new recruitment.

“We got to talk one-on-one with the students and explain the event and why it was so important. Talking to individuals was incredibly successful, and so many of them seemed so interested once they were informed,” Fitzpatrick said.

The event kicked off with the signature Survivor Lap, the first lap of the event undertaken by cancer survivors to celebrate their successful battle. To raise money, the teams sold baked goods, pancakes, guacamole and even fresh grilled cheese to provide a constructive source of nutrition for the walkers. Teams that weren’t selling food came up with other creative ways to raise money, with one team raffling off tickets to win a date with one of the men on their team. At another table, participants could write cards to cancer patients in the hospital, a more direct form of emotional support and a moving reminder of why everyone was brought together.

The flagship event, the Luminaria Ceremony, headed by Maddie Engeler ’16 and Summer Koop ’16, began at 8 that night. Luminaria, a ceremony in which candles are set in small paper bags lining the track, is a dedication to those who have battled or are currently battling cancer. Behind the stage, an arrangement of candles spelled out the word “hope,” an inspiring and reoccurring theme throughout the night. Every person in the gym is given a glow stick, and walking a single lap together, each participant throws the glow stick into a giant luminaria. As descriptions of parents, siblings and friends are announced, participants toss their glow sticks in to remember their loved ones who have been affected by cancer. It is visually stirring to see how cancer has no restraints.

For Engeler, the ceremony is significant as a time and space to remember, honor and mourn loved ones affected by cancer.

“Seeing the Brandeis community stand together during the ceremony was such a powerful moment. It makes us realize that we are not alone in our sadness but can come together and truly overcome the past and look to the future for hope,“ Engeler said.

It is a testament to both the scope of this terrible disease and the hope that Relay provides to see that everyone, on some level, has been affected by cancer.

The fundraising isn’t over yet. The last event, the Mr. Brandeis Pageant, will take place Thursday, April 3 as 16 contestants compete in yet another event where all proceeds will go to Brandeis Relay for Life.