Connie Ho was a participant in the American Cancer Society’s 2009 Relay for Life. She worked as a member of the Participate in Campus and Civic Life group at UC Irvine.
24 hours. 67 teams. $35,312.87. These numbers represent the accumulation of a year of hard work for the Relay for Life Committee, headed by third-year business economics major Mika Nagashima and fourth-year sociology major Catie Reilly.
The event, which took place in Aldrich Park last Saturday, May 2, was hosted by the American Cancer Society Colleges Against Cancer (ACSCAC), the nation’s largest non-governmental, non-profit organization that fundraises for cancer research. The organization is relatively new on campus, but partners with groups such as the Health Education Center to put on programs such as the Great American Smoke Out.
This year, the event was particularly meaningful because it was held in honor of Leslie Sinclair, who recently passed away before the eighth annual Relay for Life. Sinclair, who was diagnosed in 2002 with skin cancer at the age of 16, was set to graduate this June with a major in social ecology.
“All of us are here for her. We really miss her. She was so full of life. In everything that we do at Relay, we are reminded of her,” Nagashima said.
In past years, Sinclair was on the planning committee for Relay for Life. She sought an active role, working tirelessly to solicit donations from nearby businesses and attending planning meetings whenever possible.
“She was such an inspirational person [and] definitely a big part of the event, always there supporting,” Reilly said.
Reilly herself became involved in Relay for Life in high school following her grandmother’s experience with lymphatic cancer.
Similar to Reilly, there are those in Relay for Life who participated to honor friends or family members who have lost the fight to cancer. Katrina Castillo, a fourth-year political science major, got involved with Relay for Life as a freshman in high school. She walks for Nikki, a girl she met in first grade with whom she continued to stay in touch until high school.
In sixth grade, Nikki was diagnosed with leukemia. Her parents knew something was wrong when she returned from a birthday party jumper with bruises all over her body. Having been diagnosed with leukemia, Nikki dropped out of school. Every so often, she would come back, but because she had lost her hair as a result of chemotherapy, she always wore a bandana. Nikki went through remission a few times and spoke of high school reunions and road trips they took together.
“Nikki wasn’t afraid of death. She always acted like everything was okay,” Castillo said. “I remember there was this one time when she saw a butterfly and she said it was her grandpa. She believed that … when you die, your spirit becomes a butterfly and so, whenever I see a butterfly now, I believe that Nikki’s looking down on me.”
Others see Relay for Life as a way to honor those who have overcome cancer. Hannah Cho, a first-year psychology major, participated in her first Relay for Life this past weekend. During her sophomore year of high school, her mother was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer.
“I want to be strong for my mom. My mom is an inspiration. Without her, I don’t know what I would do,” Cho said.
Cho, who collected spare change from fellow residents in the resident halls, earned the award for fifth-highest individual fundraiser.
Some attended Relay for Life to honor their own victory against cancer. Heather Ayer, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major, was diagnosed with Wilms cancer at the age of five. After having her kidney removed, Ayer underwent radiation and chemotherapy as part of her treatment. Having since been in remission and as a result of her own family’s openness about her experience of cancer, Ayer became involved in cancer awareness to help families cope with childhood cancer in her hometown of Santa Barbara. In 2007, she was the survivorship chair of Relay for Life and, this past year, she acted as team captain for the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.
“It’s so rewarding to reach out to people and to cherish life. People need to be recognized for their struggles,” Ayer said. She emphasized how difficult it was to be diagnosed in college, and how uncomfortable and embarrassing it can be to explain the situation to friends. “For Leslie to be so open and to reach out to others” despite her illness, Ayer said, “is amazing.”
The 24-hour event is not only a fundraiser, but also a means to promote cancer awareness and education with activities such as cancer jeopardy and educational displays by various organizations. The planning for the event generally begins in the summer, with the chairs recruiting committee members as early as August, a year before the event begins.