Relayers Unite in the Fight Against Cancer

Natalie Collura, a cancer survivor, walked with the SJU community at Relay for Life on Friday.

Dewayne Goforth and Amanda Negretti

Members of the St. John’s family and Queens community, alongside representatives of the American Cancer Society (ACS), poured into Carnesecca Arena last Friday to stand united in the fight against a disease that has taken many lives.

Every year, thousands of St. John’s students, staff, faculty and administrators participate in an all-night walkathon to raise money to be donated to the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life is a 12-hour long event in which local communities and universities raise funds and awareness for cancer research. They do this by remembering the lives of those lost to cancer and those who have survived.

The St. John’s community has participated in Relay for Life for 13 years, raising over a million dollars since it began in 2005.

“Last year we broke the million dollar mark and for the last 13 years St. John’s has now raised almost 1.2 million dollars to the American Cancer Society, and they’re the only college in the [New York Metropolitan Area] who has hit that milestone,” said Meaghen Neary, an American Cancer Society representative. She started relaying back in college as a volunteer to honor her aunt, a breast cancer survivor.

In 2015, SJU raised $114,223 followed by $140,341 in 2016. In 2017, the Relay team raised $137,214, and this year a record-breaking $160,214. “The committee set a goal at the beginning of the year of [at] $150,000 and we were lucky enough to hit that before the opening ceremony even started,”  Neary said.

The opening ceremony began with a brief video followed by a speech from sophomore Natalie Collura. Collura survived cancer after being diagnosed at age 10. Now, she uses her sickness as inspiration in her daily life.

“The pain was indescribable,” Collura said. “After the surgery I had to re-learn how to sit up because the muscles in my abdomen were completely torn during the surgery.

But cancer has given so much more than it took from me — cancer gave me my voice. It gave me the ability to stand up for myself when kids would pick on me … it gave me the strength to speak about my feelings, my needs and my wants.”

After the opening ceremony, the lights were cut off and the glow sticks were broken and dropped into small paper bags that were covered in inspirational drawings and quotes and filled with electronic candles and rocks to keep them in place.

Giselle Rosario, chair of campus outreach on the Relay Committee, described the ceremony as “a time of remembering; we as a community to remember those fighting, those who won the fight, and those who unfortunately lost the fight to cancer.”

The event concluded at 6 a.m. the following morning, and it was revealed that the University had raised more than $160,000.

To help keep everyone awake, activities such as zumba and yoga were offered, as well as performances by Johnny on the Rocks, the dance team, Kickline and Live Dance Crew.  

Funds raised by Relay For Life have been a significant contributor in the 20 percent decline in cancer-related deaths since 1991. The money has also contributed to saving patients more than $38 million in lodging costs by providing a free place to stay through the Hope Lodge program.

“Every year these students work so hard, harder than any community I have ever seen,” Neary said. “All the people I’ve met here and all their stories, whether it’s a survivor or a caregiver, they have definitely inspired me to work harder at my own job.”