St. John ’s 10th annual Relay For Life event, held in Carnesecca Arena last weekend, proved to be a record breaking event. The St. John’s community gathered to celebrate, honor and fight for those affected by cancer.
Mary Pelkowski, associate dean for student engagement, said, “This Relay For Life was extremely historic. It was our 10th Annual Fundraising Celebration and we broke all three records. We had the most teams, most participants and raised the most money in SJU history.”
The Disney-themed event brought in nearly 126 teams and 1,700 student participants, in addition to administration, faculty and volunteers. The event, which spanned from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, raised over $114,000.
Relay For Life began with a touching opening ceremony, the annual Luminaria ceremony and the survivors lap.
“I’m looking forward to the whole event because it’s just so magical, especially the Opening Ceremony because it’s a time for people to reflect,” Relay For Life chair, sophomore Catherine Sheehan said.
The Luminaria ceremony seemed to be an emotional time for many at the event. On a paper bag, participants wrote a person’s name or a small message about why they Relay. During Luminaria, everyone held his or her bag with a lit glow stick inside.
First, event staff instructed current cancer patients to hold up their bags, then survivors and caregivers. Lastly, those fighting for a cure held up their bags. Afterward, participants set their Luminaria bags down along the border of the track.
Sophomore Richard Cantoral was looking forward to the Luminaria ceremony most of all.
“It’s very powerful,” Cantoral said.
After Luminaria, participants and volunteers alike sat to watch a slideshow of those who have died because of cancer.
As the faces popped up on the screen, emotions ran deep among the crowd. People cried, hugged and remembered.
“I got sad from that video,” freshman Austin Rojas said. “My grandmother just got lung cancer, and she already had colon cancer…nothing can kill that woman though, trust me.”
Cancer is a widespread disease. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015, about 589,430 Americans are expected to die of cancer, or about 1,620 people per day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly one of every four deaths.
This explained why so many people were moved by the slideshow.
“Cancer affects everybody, whether you’re the person with the disease, a family member or a friend,” Pauline Tummino, director of health services, said. “I would think everyone on this campus is affected.”
Pelkowski has participated in Relay For Life for the past four years. Like many participants, she has been affected by cancer.
“I relay for my mom who I lost from lung cancer,” Pelkowski said. “I relay so that one day there will be a cure and we will celebrate more birthdays.”
Freshman Rosalie Messina, chair of the survivorship committee at Relay, was also affected by cancer. Her mother survived breast cancer. Meanwhile, sophomore Survivorship Committee Co-Chair Tatiana Smith’s mom has cervical cancer.
“We relay for our moms,” Messina said of the pair.
Among the students, St. John’s Greek life had a huge turnout at Relay For Life. The three top fundraising teams were Greek organizations. Lambda Kappa Sigma, Phi Delta Chi and Alpha Sigma Alpha came in first, second and third, respectively.
Lambda Kappa Sigma raised about $17,500 for Relay. The sorority’s fundraising chair, Emily Levine (a third-year Pharmacy student) said, “I think a lot of dedication from all of the sisters helped…[The issue of] cancer is something near and dear to our hearts.”
“This is why we join organizations…to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” Tau Kappa Epsilon treasurer, junior Matt Potenza said.
Throughout the night, the event staff served pizza, heroes, Popeye’s and bagels. Dance and singing performances, comedy shows and a Disney pageant were among the entertainment that spanned the night.
Freshman Veronica Ruiz said, “We have a lot of stuff planned. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it.” Ruiz is the co-chair of the Advocacy Committee, which pushes for lifestyle changes to prevent cancer and for legislation for a cure.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015, almost 171,000 of the estimated 589,430 cancer deaths in the U.S. will be caused by tobacco smoking…up to one-third of the cancer cases that occur in economically developed countries like the U.S. are related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity and/or poor nutrition.
The chair of the committee, Jennifer Ramanand, said, “We want to advocate for lifestyle changes that could help.”
As freshman C.J. Martin said of Relay For Life, “It’s a way to have fun while saving lives, there is nothing better than that.”