University of Wisconsin students continue to demonstrate a devotion to fighting the battle against cancer as more than 1,000 students plan to participate in Friday’s Relay for Life event at the Camp Randall Sports Center, the Shell.
This year’s theme, “Teaming Up Against Cancer,” will celebrate survivorship of cancer patients through fundraising efforts to help support research and programs for the American Cancer Society.
The event, running for its ninth year at UW, will host 80 teams Friday consisting of approximately 1,000 students — the highest attendance to date. These 80 teams overshadow the 63 teams who contributed last year, and will add approximately 170 people the event, according to UW Relay for Life Public Relations Spokesperson Elizabeth Kelly.
The teams spend weeks fundraising on behalf of the ACS and then participate in an overnight event where teams are required to continually have a member walking around a track or area.
Friday’s event also features an entertainment line-up including shows by the UW Madhatters, Dance Elite, several bands, the African Storyteller and tournaments in areas such as Texas Hold ‘Em, basketball and a cross-dressing contest.
According to Kelly, the Friday night and Saturday morning events are more “fun,” but the Luminaria Ceremony at 9 p.m., complete with lit candles in memory of cancer patients, is the focal point of the event.
This year’s Luminaria Ceremony will feature a slideshow of pictures brought in by friends and family to “personalize” the event and commemorate the efforts of those fighting the disease, she added.
Kelly said “word of mouth” among students might have helped increase the amount of teams participating this weekend. Teams hope to raise $92,000, a goal that seeks to outdo the $40,000 raised in 2003 and the $80,000 raised in 2004. The figure may be attributed to ease of online fundraising, she added.
Online donations alone have already exceeded $47,000 and have helped students reach out further to gather contributions.
“[Online fundraising] allows students to contact their family members and others through mass-e-mail without worrying about sending mail,” Kelly said.
UW senior and Online Promotions Chair Kellie Caven said the ability to post information online and team connections has been an efficient way for members to stay in contact.
Last year UW online contributions raised about $22,000 and placed UW as the highest contributor in the Midwest. But this year, the university will join the Big Ten conference ranks to compete against other schools involved in Relay for Life.
Kelly said college students nationwide find the time between busy school schedules and work to raise money. University of Michigan students raised more than $72,000 in online fundraising for this year’s event, which is “very encouraging,” Kelly added.
“More and more people are realizing someone they know is affected and they can help them,” Kelly said. “It’s students doing this — realizing the difference they can make and it astounds me.”
According to Caven, there is “a little competition” between the schools in the Big Ten, but the UW teams are mainly concentrating on raising enough money to meet their $92,000 goal.
The goals of the Relay for Life rely on the involvement of students, many of who are involved in UW’s Colleges Against Cancer, a student organization supported by the American Cancer Society.
CAC is committed to help find a cure for cancer at the university level, while providing assistance to those affected by the disease.
UW junior Steph Nasseff, food co-chair of UW’s Relay for Life and a member of the Badger Babes team, said her involvement through CAC and Relay for Life has helped her deal with her mother’s battle with breast cancer.
Nasseff’s mother was diagnosed in August 2004, a few weeks before classes started, with cancer that had spread to the bones and lymph nodes. Despite the complications, Nasseff’s mother did not want her to take a semester off, so Nasseff stayed in Madison while her mother underwent chemotherapy and other treatments at home in Minnesota.
“I knew right away that in addition to my friends, I needed an outlet or support group,” Nasseff said.
Through her involvement in CAC, Nasseff got involved in Relay for Life and in advocating involvement on campus through posters and e-mails for events such as Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Great American Smokeout and Relay for Life.
“A lot of people stop by [CAC] meetings and they are interested because they know cancer is prevalent,” Nasseff said. “Many of them know that the things you do now can affect you in later years.”
CAC also organizes visitations to bring flowers to cancer patients at local hospitals and helps put on local runs or walks for cancer.
Nasseff’s mother went into remission in Jan. 2005, but despite this good news, Nasseff said she still pushes hard for events such as Relay for Life and other outreach for cancer research.
The experience with her mother has been “an eye-opener” for both her education and development at UW, she added.
“I don’t take things for granted anymore, I try to not get stressed out,” Nasseff said. “[I] think of how lucky and healthy I am and I use that to help others.”
With her luck and health, Nasseff contributed one of the top five largest amounts of money for the UW Relay for Life event by fundraising more than $800 online.
Similarly, UW senior Kristi Eastwood, a member of the Gamma Phi Beta team, has raised more than $1,100 for the team. Overall, the GPB team has raised more than $2,700 in online donations.
Eastwood said “it’s amazing” how people are willing to contribute to the group, especially those who knew her father, Mark, who passed away from cancer in June 2002.
“People are interested in [donating],” she said. “You send out e-mails to friends and family … and they’re willing to contribute. They want to contribute.”