There’s a ‘Can’ in Cancer: Relay for Life


As part of Relay for Life’s annual Luminara tribute, glow sticks and candles are positioned in bags inscribed with a name of a surviving cancer patient or one who has passed away. As the sunlight dwindles during the event, the candles are blown out and the glow sticks are cracked producing an array of awe-inspiring light. Although this may appear to be simply a bag of lights, its significance embodies the will and strength of cancer survivors in the presence of pain, as well as their light that shines from within.

Sean Nguyen and Aidan Harbison

Sometimes you get to choose your battles, and sometimes they choose you. Each year, millions lose their battle with a cancer-related illness, catastrophically impacting their families and loved ones. Relay for Life (RFL), one of Jefferson’s most popular community service clubs, is hoping to change that. Although it may be the end of the holidays, for Relay for Life it is never truly the end of the season of giving, as members are constantly hard at work to fundraise for the American Cancer Society (ACS). The enterprise is an entirely student-led committee that raises capital throughout the year for ACS and their end-of-the-year commemoration for cancer victims and survivors. It’s this final commemoration that returning members often reminisce of most fondly, and it’s what the club itself is most recognized for. Typically during May or June, the overnight event hosts hundreds of individuals to raise money and awareness as much as possible for ACS and its counterparts.

However, membership in Relay for Life doesn’t simply revolve around this one facet of the club; besides planning this commemoration as their final momentous task, members commit hours upon hours of effort to other fundraisers throughout the year. These activities range from spirit weeks to raise awareness within the Jefferson community, or competitions within the club to award a prize to the individual who can raise the most amount of money, such as free Chipotle, or a reward as simple as donuts. These straightforward activities appear insignificant in the grand scale of Relay For Life’s mission, yet do much to both raise cancer awareness and to raise money for ACS. RFL’s ambitiousness to provoke discussion about cancer shines through their spirit weeks, where each day is dedicated towards a specific cancer.

“Each day, you would wear a color t-shirt; for instance, on childhood cancer day you would wear gold, and for breast cancer, you would wear pink,” senior Nira Harikrishnan said. “This not only is a means of raising awareness to illustrate to others Relay For Life exists, but encouraging those to fund towards this cause.”

Members of RFL come from various backgrounds and have different stories as to why they were inspired and empowered to take part in the club. These stories range from junior Neha Damaraju’s hoping the club would bring her solace in the wake of her mother’s death from cancer, to senior Rithika Lanka, who felt inspired by how the club had created a vibrant community around fighting cancer and raising support for cancer victims. These student advocates might not have met given a different circumstance, but their shared love and passion for community service and fighting against cancer has united them together in one of Jefferson’s most influential clubs.

But by far, the most prominent aspect of the club considered by members is the aforementioned final event. Among the most awe-inspiring events at this end-of-the-year commemoration, Luminara gathers optimistic survivors and grieving friends/family across a pavilion. The moment pays respect to those who have lost their lives in their fight against cancer, reminding survivors that their illness does not define them. Hosted at approximately midnight, bags of glow sticks are situated across the pavilions track where survivors ceremoniously stride until stopping at any bag. Within a pitch black atmosphere and silence suffusing the pavilion, the event chair states: “If you’re here for your father, break your glow stick. Now, if you’re here for your mother, break your glow stick. If you’re here for your grandparents, break your glow stick. If you are experiencing or experienced cancer, break your glow stick.” Gradually, the somber and dark surrounding sparks into an alluring array of colors. The occasion proves the human spirit is stronger than anything cancer can do to it.

“The moment I hear the glow sticks crack as the sun wanes and witness lights appear out of bleakness, I am reminded why I’m standing on this pavillon in the first place,” said Lanka. “My uncle has died from cancer, and knowing that I can respect and honor him in this sense is an extremely emotional moment for me and for those who’ve endured equally. In that pavilion, you’re with everyone, knowing that we were all touched in the same, endearing way.”