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May 25 2016
by Jenna Ciccotelli

What is Relay for Life?

By Jenna Ciccotelli - May 25 2016
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Relay for Life was born in 1985 in Tacoma, Washington. Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon and avid runner, decided to do laps around a local track for 24 hours. Family, friends, and patients could pay $25 to walk half an hour with Dr. Klatt, and numerous people donated and looked on as Dr. Klatt walked over 83 miles and raised $27,000 to fight cancer. The first Relay for Life took place the following year as the City of Destiny Classic 24 Hour Run Against Cancer, raising $33,000.

At Relay, teams of people pitch a tent and camp out in a park, gym or stadium and take turns lapping around a track. At least one representative from each team should be walking at all times. To represent the fact that cancer is a disease that never sleeps, Relay is an overnight event up to 24 hours in length. Games, performances, midnight movies and theme laps are just a few of the entertainment options available to those who are not walking.

Walking a track is just one of many Relay traditions. The event kicks off with a Survivors Lap following Opening Ceremonies to celebrate those who have won their battle against cancer -- and those who have fought alongside them as caregivers. 

Arguably, the most emotional part of any Relay for Life is the Luminaria ceremony. Bags are purchased and decorated in memory of those lost to cancer. After dark, these Luminaria bags line the track and are illuminated with a candle. Luminaria Ceremonies feature speakers sharing extremely personal anecdotes about those they have lost. After, participants walk a silent lap in memory of those who have passed away from cancer.

Wikimedia Commons

Relay for Life is an event that brings together cancer survivors, caregivers, families and friends in an effort to celebrate, remember and fight back against this horrible disease. Relay is the world's largest movement to end cancer, with 4 million people participating in over 5,000 annual Relay events in 20 countries. Since the start of Relay, it is estimated that these events have raised over 5 billion dollars to finish the fight against cancer. The money raised during Relay is used for so much more than research. The American Cancer Society funds programs including Hope Lodge, which provides a free place for patients and caregivers to stay while receiving treatment; Road to Recovery, which will transport patients to appointments; and Look Good Feel Better, which helps women battling cancer to improve their self-image and self-confidence while going through tedious treatments.

Over 1,600,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2016. Almost 600,000 of these patients will die from this disease. With staggering statistics like these, it is impossible to ignore cancer.

Relay for Life events take place on 500 college campuses across the country, and it is so easy for you to find one and get involved. Chances are, your school has a Relay event. You can participate in Relay as an individual, though it is normally a team-oriented event. Creating a team with your friends or through a school organization is easy and registration and fundraising can be done entirely online. This is so convenient that there is no excuse not to participate.

Having just completed my fourth Relay for Life this past weekend, I am recovering from the all-too-familiar wave of exhaustion. I'll take the fatigue for a few days, though. It's worth it knowing that I have been able to help finish the fight against cancer.

Lead Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Jenna Ciccotelli - Northeastern University

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