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Mace & Crown | October 23, 2017

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'Relay for Life' Raises Thousands for Cancer Research

Tracey Buyrn | Contributing Writer

There are approximately 15.5 million U.S. citizens who have survived the deadly grips of cancer since 2016. There are more people around you affected by cancer than you know, which is why Relay for Life is presented every year on campus to celebrate those survivors and be there for those still afflicted by the disease.

The seventeenth annual fundraiser kicked off Friday night outside the Student Recreation Center. AJ McCafferty, Executive Director of the event, commenced the ceremony, followed by remarks from Dr. Ellen Neufeldt and President John Broderick. The event is sponsored in cooperation with the American Cancer Society to help raise money for cancer research, help find new treatments and support those who have been diagnosed.

The event began at sunset, which has significant meaning. Hearing the words, “you have cancer” for the first time can feel like the sun is going down on you. The relay then lasts through the night to signify how fighting cancer, or watching others fight it, can often be lonely, dark and cold. Finally, the relay wraps up as the sun rises to represent when a survivor goes into remission.

Before the first lap of the relay, Broderick spoke on how cancer connects those at the university more than we might recognize. There have been several professors, some who are currently fighting the disease and a few that have recently passed on. Relay for Life helps remember those who have survived and those who are still afflicted.

Not only has cancer affected faculty members, but the student body as well. Senior Gabby Mayfield, a marketing major, shared her story of learning what it was like to find out she had Lymphoma.

In 2012, after working at a summer camp, she noticed areas around her neck that were lumpy, but her doctor dismissed it. Being a healthy eighteen-year-old, she didn’t really think much of it. Soon after, however, a lump formed under her arm that was painful and caused her to return. She was later diagnosed with stage two Nodular Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Just a few weeks after discovering she had cancer, her sister was diagnosed as well.

Mayfield shared that there are two different types of Lymphoma. There is Non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is rarest.  In 2016, there were 81,000 cases of both types of Lymphoma, where only about 8,500 cases were Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It is even more rare for women to be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, which makes both Mayfield and her sister receiving the diagnoses shocking. After three years of treatment, both were declared in remission by their doctors. Unfortunately, this past fall, Mayfield’s symptoms have come back, and her cancer has officially relapsed.

After she finishes her treatments, Mayfield will be going to VCU with the hopes of a stem cell transplant. She is still determined to finish strong and graduate this May.

Relay for Life is about recognizing that cancer is all around us and can happen to anyone. It is estimated that almost 40 percent of people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. There are more than 100 types of the disease, the most common being breast, lung and prostate cancer.

Mayfield also gave some advice on how to talk with someone about their diagnosis of cancer. She emphasized that it is important not to push them to talk about their feeling or what they want.

“They just want it gone and for it to be over. Just let them know that you are there for them and make them comfortable and support them. Just recognizing and saying, “that sucks” is sometimes the most comforting thing to hear,” Mayfield said.

Other things you can do to help support cancer patients are donating money to reliable charities or donating blood or bone marrow.

After Mayfield’s testimony on her own diagnosis, Relay for Life 2017 officially began. Besides the relay itself, there were contests, games and many tables representing different types of cancer money was being raised for. Each organization partaking in the event had their own table with specific themes
having attendees play games or selling various types of food and goodies.

Gamma Sigma Sigma, who works with the American Cancer Society, raised approximately $3,000 at their carnival-themed table. Those who came by were able to partake in games and win prizes.

“In the beginning, it was mostly the Greek organizations that had tables and displays. Now that has really opened up and more of the student body as a whole is represented,” McCafferty said when speaking about the growth of the event over the years.

Relay for Life was originally held in Webb Center, but a year ago the volunteer team was able to work with the SRC in holding the event both inside and outside of the building.

“They donate not only the building for the use of relay, but their staff as well,” McCafferty said.

The event brings in over $50,000 annually for cancer research. There is usually around $35,000 raised before the relay, followed by approximately $15,000 being collected during the event.

During the night, there is also a “Luminaria Ceremony,” which is a time to remember those that have lost their battle with cancer. Candles are raised by those who have lost a family member or friend to the disease. As the candles went up in the air, it was clear that cancer affected almost everyone at the event. The ceremony is then followed by one lap held in complete silence in memory of those who have been lost.

“I relay for my grandmother, who is a survivor and because I recognize the impact that cancer has on everyone,” McAfferty said when asked why he was so involved in Relay for Life.

There was also the opportunity to donate hair for wigs to give to those who have lost their hair during treatment. Pantene’s “Beautiful Lengths” offered free haircuts to those who wished to use their hair for the making of wigs for cancer patients.

“I donated my hair in memory of my aunt who had Ovarian cancer,” freshmen Andy Brzoska said.

“It’s only hair, I don’t need it as much as other people do, it will grow back, and it is for a good cause,” senior Nicole Riekers said.

The Sigma Nu fraternity held “Skin-A-Snake” during the event, where several of the brother’s heads were auctioned off to attendees. Whoever bid the highest on a member got to shave their head. The catch? After their haircuts, they were banned from being able to touch up or fix their hair until Sunday night. By the time most of the members had gone through their hair transformations, Sigma Nu had raised $652.

“I could not be more proud of what we have built here at ODU. Not only have we created the largest fundraising event on the campus of ODU, but we have created an event that is inclusive, diverse, and welcoming to all who have been affected by cancer,” McCafferty said later on social media.