One Million Closer To A Cure, And Still Counting

On one Friday night in late March, over 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni will gather in the Flynn Recreation Complex from sunset to sunrise, to walk in solidarity with both cancer survivors and those whose battle with cancer has ended. This gathering will mark the eighth installment of Boston College’s Relay for Life, a community fundraising event that supports the work of the American Cancer Society—and an event that has seen significant success on campus. In February, BC’s Relay for Life reached the one million dollar mark in total fundraising for the eight years since its inception, which makes it the first university in Massachusetts and the second in New England to do so.

At the collegiate event level, BC has remained among the top universities across the nation in fundraising, and is the second in New England, just behind Northeastern University, which is ranked third in the nation. The event last year saw 1,100 participants and raised just under $150,000 for the American Cancer Society. For every dollar raised, the American Cancer Society donates 72 cents to research, education, advocacy, and patient services.

The Relay for Life student committee at BC is comprised of four event co-chairs, who oversee 10 subcommittees and a number of volunteers. This year’s event co-chairs are Mark Maleri, CSOM ’15; Emily Hoffman, CSOM ’15; Kristin Meehan, A&S ’15; and Claire Ritten, LSOE ’16. Extensive planning for the event is done over the course of the school year, in partnership with a representative from the American Cancer Society—Kylie Madden, the New England coordinator of Relay for Life—and the Volunteer Service Learning Center (VSLC).

The event co-chairs noted the importance of previous Relay for Life committee members and participants in helping reach the million-dollar mark this year, as this milestone was the result of the collaborative efforts of many individuals and organizations since Relay for Life’s beginnings at BC.

“While it did happen in our year, it’s this huge effort that’s been ongoing for the past seven years, which is cool because it speaks back to the community,” Maleri said. “Everyone—no matter who donated even a single dollar in the past seven years—was a part of that.”

Each year, there is a significant number of returning participants in the event, as the organization has established relationships with students, faculty, alumni, and businesses who continue to support the event.

“Having voices supporting Relay at all different levels has been really helpful because it’s no longer just for students, and it’s never been that way,” Hoffman said. “While it is a collegiate Relay, it’s really a community event.”

Following the momentum of reaching the million-dollar mark, Relay for Life has seen a significant growth in participation and involvement, as the amount of teams currently registered for the event has already surpassed last year’s number. This year’s installment has seen renewed participation from the athletic department, club sports teams, alumni, and a larger faculty and staff presence than years prior.

“The Boston College community has really rallied not only the students, but also the faculty, staff, and greater community to join us in the fight against cancer,” Madden said. “We just really have a great group of students that are committed to the cause.”

The event features numerous speakers and performances. Following the opening ceremony, cancer survivors walk around the track in a victorious “survivor lap,” followed by a “caregiver lap” that recognizes the work that caregivers have done for cancer patients. The event culminates in the “Luminaria Ceremony,” which honors loved ones who have passed and encourages those currently fighting the disease with the lighting of Luminaria bags or candles. Individual and team walking is observed throughout the night, and the event closes with the “Fight Back Ceremony,” in which participants take one final lap and pledge to take action in the fight against cancer.

“It’s really special to see so many students, faculty, and staff come together on one night—on a Friday night—to do all they can to celebrate our survivors, remember those that have passed away, and then fight back against cancer,” said Madden.

Hoffman noted the importance of participants staying for the duration of the event, as the event’s structure over the course of the twelve hours is intended to mirror the journey of a cancer patient from diagnosis to remission.

“The timing of it is very purposeful—it starts at sunset to symbolize the receiving of a diagnosis, and when it ends in the morning at sunrise—that’s a symbol of hope for an end to treatment and a positive remission,” Hoffman said. “To get the most impact from the event and for it to be as powerful as it can be, it’s really helpful to see and experience that from darkness to light.”

At this year’s event, there will be a total of 12 performances to provide entertainment at every hour of the ceremony in order to energize and revitalize the participants throughout the night.

The committee hopes to raise $175,000 for the American Cancer Society this year, and reach 1,5000 participants at the event, said Ritten in an email.
As support for Relay for Life continues to grow, the committee hopes to see greater student participation in other programs that the American Cancer Society hosts beyond just the Relay for Life event. Maleri noted the opportunity for BC students to serve locally in the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center located in Jamaica Plains—a facility run by the American Cancer Society that provides free housing for cancer patients near the hospital.

“I think it would be really cool to get people involved in some of the other programs and services that the American Cancer Society does,” Meehan said. “That’s something that we can push for so that people see the correlation between what they’re doing and how it’s helping.”

Students are still able to register online for this year’s Relay for Life event, which will take place in the Flynn Recwreation Complex, beginning on March 20 at 6 p.m. and concluding on March 21 at 6 a.m.

“BC students continue to amaze us with their commitment to addressing societal challenges,” said University Spokesperson Jack Dunn in an email. “This commitment manifests itself in so many ways, including volunteerism, community service and, most recently, in the impressive accomplishment of having raised $1 million for the American Cancer Society through the Relay for Life. We applaud their generosity of gift and spirit in their efforts to help defeat cancer.”

Featured Image by Emily Sadeghian / Heights Senior Staff

March 12, 2015