During the opening ceremony for the Ramapo College Relay for Life, I found myself in a spot in the back of the gym waiting to see what the night would have in store. I started the evening acknowledging that this event was for a great cause because it brings communities across the globe together to honor cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease, but that it was going to be hard to keep that spirit up for the amount of time needed for the event to run its course.
This observation turned out to be false, since the farther into the night we got, the deeper and more involved I felt about my role and the importance of fighting cancer.
The stories from survivors and the passion felt by those running the event was awe-inspiring, and despite the long hours, the event made a deeper impact on me and the entire crowd. This raised the point that cancer and cancer research should continue to be a national, social and economic issue.
“It definitely raises awareness as a college community,” said Arielle Saracinello, a sophomore social work major with a concentration in substance abuse. “It’s very emotional so it leaves a lasting impact on all of us. It also raises a lot of money.”
The impact of Relay for Life can be felt on a national level as well, considering the reaching impact it has on the many victims of the illness.
“It helps people so they don’t have to fight alone, gets them the support they need and reminds them we are all behind the victims of cancer,” said Joseph Sullivan, a freshman history major.
The passion felt by those in attendance was really something to witness, but the most powerful moment for me, was the answer I received when I asked survivor Nancy Alvarez what this event, and others like it, does for her and the community.
“I think it is really important at the college level to bring the young people into caring about an issue at a young age to help people suffering feel a lot better and more supported,” she said.
The time I spent with Alvarez was wonderful and she was an incredibly charming and heartwarming woman to talk to, but unfortunately cancer has affected her life.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,665,540 new cases of cancer were reported in 2014 and about 584,881 people died from cancer in that year.
Clearly, the work is far from being finished, and yet, through all the fog that cancer creates, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. Since 1991, when the cancer death rate peaked, there has been a decline in the mortality rate and around 1.5 million lives have been saved thanks to new research and practice in the field, according to sciencedaily.com, a center for research news.
All of these numbers are hard to put faces to, especially if you have only seen cancer from a distance, but that is what the Ramapo event did for the people suffering from the illness after seeing and hearing survivors as young as traditional college-aged students and others who are much younger.
There is a substantial amount of work left to be done in the fight against this illness, but the hope is real.
During my time at Relay for Life, I found myself facing my own preconceived notions and lack of vision on what actually goes on inside the world of a cancer patient and what the average person can do to help.
The truth is, I have not had to think about the deathly side of the illness since I lost my grandfather to bladder cancer nearly a decade ago. I did, however, think about how much my grandfather watched over me and made sure I was going to be the kind of person to make myself and others happy. I still look up to the sky at night and see a group of stars that look like a smiley face in sky, and I know through all the uncertainty and challenges nothing can overcome a true fighting spirit like I found again in the people I met at Relay for Life.
Cancer is a life-changing illness, and fighting for its destruction is a life-changing cause.