Ramapo relays love and funding to cancer survivors

Photo courtesy of Natalie Tsur.

After months of planning and preparation, Ramapo’s American Cancer Society (ACS) successfully hosted their annual Relay for Life in the Bradley Center on Friday, April 1 — in-person for the first time since 2019. Over $11,000 was raised, all of which will be donated to the national ACS.

Relay for Life, founded in 1985, is a movement by the ACS that is dedicated to raising money, awareness and support for those who have been affected by cancer. The event can last from 12 to 24 hours, requiring participants to walk around a track and stay awake throughout the night to symbolize the consistent battle cancer patients endure. 

“Our main goal was bringing everybody together in person again after not being here for two years,” said Autumn Laird, ACS president and senior biology major. “We bring a lot of people together, including survivors from around town, from around our communities, so we can honor them.”

The 12-hour event requires an extensive amount of time, commitment, creativity, money and community effort. This year was carnival-themed, bringing in a handful of games and activities provided by various Ramapo clubs and organizations, as well as over 30 local food vendors that were served in rounds throughout the night to keep attendees well-fed and energized.  

The highlights of the night, however, were the Survivor and Luminaria ceremonies. Five local survivors were honored during a brief ceremony, followed by a survivors’ lap around the track. 

The Luminaria ceremony is the most emotional part of the night, as participants line the track in decorated paper bags dedicated to community cancer survivors and those who have lost the battle. Preceding the walk is a video montage honoring family and friends who have beat cancer, are battling cancer or lost their lives to cancer.

“Let us pay tribute to those we love and all of those lives who have been touched by cancer,” said Kayla Gill, ACS secretary and senior nursing major, before the laps around the track where attendees dropped a lit purple glow stick in the bags, lighting up the path.

The value of hosting Ramapo’s own Relay gives the community an opportunity to come together and honor those who have or had cancer, caregivers and those who had someone close to them battle cancer. The large gym became a safe-space for attendees to mourn, cry, celebrate and appreciate the communal dedication to fighting for a remarkable cause. 

“These [events] really made me understand that… there are a lot of people out there that went through the same thing that I did,” said Jahquan Williams, a senior computer science major and osteogenic sarcoma survivor. He has been part of several Relay for Lifes, as he was diagnosed at six years old and had his leg amputated less than a month later. “It's amazing having these big groups of people, and actually seeing that I'm not the only one that goes through these types of things. It's just awesome to see all these people coming out and having a lot of support.”

“I went through a lot in my life,” he said, “but I still am the visual representation of how it's always possible to overcome something even though it might take a lot of time or money or effort.”