Relay for Life raises awareness for cancer research

For some University of Miami students, Relay for Life is a hours-long annual fundraiser for cancer research filled with baked goods, dunk tanks and water balloons; but for other students, the event raises awareness for a fight they know too well.

Andres Hidalgo was diagnosed with cancer in April 2012, his freshman year of high school. Hidalgo, now a sophomore, said communities coming together to help cancer patients hits close to home because it was thanks to his friends and local community that he was able to afford his medical treatment. He said events like Relay help bring awareness to the community.

“At first I was skeptical about Relay for Life,” Hidalgo said. “I thought it was a lot of time to invest and I didn’t think a small group of college students can have such a big impact.”

This year, Hidalgo is head of the Survivor Caregiver Committee for Relay for Life and praises the average $25,000 to $45,000 raised annually by organizations across campus.

“At the end of the day, we want to raise money to combat cancer and fund cancer research, but it all starts with people being aware of the situation,” Hidalgo said. “Cancer can affect anyone; it doesn’t discriminate.”

Relay for Life is not only an annual event held at UM but nationally as well. Across the United States, Relay for Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The event lasts from six to 24 hours and referred to as a “relay” because one student from each “team,” or student organization, walks the course of booths at all times for the duration of the event. The walk symbolizes how those battling cancer never stop fighting. At UM, student organizations raise money by setting up booths around the Foote Green and offering attendees foods and activities for a donation.

For junior Vincent Cendan, getting involved with Relay for Life was personal, with cancer hitting home more than once. His cousin had cancer twice, and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer his senior year of high school.

“I think we all know about cancer, but we need something important that can drive us together,” said Cendan, Relay for Life captain for Phi Delta Theta. “It’s something that unifies us for this great cause.”

Before the event began, a total of $32,000 had been raised online with the sale of tickets. E-board members hoped to reach the event’s goal of $45,000 by the end of the night.

The track full of the student organizations’ booths was lined with paper bags, called Luminarias, with the names of people who have battled cancer. Some won their fight, others lost. The bags stood as a reminder to everyone traversing the course of Relay for Life’s importance.

“It is an event that brings not only those people who have been affected by cancer but those who want to be educated about it,” said Noureen Ahmed, UM lead and president of Relay for Life. “And, also, those who want to give back to the community on the topic of cancer.” 

Ahmed has been participating in Relay for Life for nine years. In middle school, she wanted to get involved with the event to do some good, but that desire quickly blossomed into wanting to end cancer.

“I relay for more birthdays, said Ahmed. “I relay so those people don’t have to sit in a hospital and go through chemo; so that cancer, one day, won’t exist, and they can go out and do what they want.”