By Thomas Albano
Jen Lacaillade, a senior elementary education major, was filled with emotion, struggling to get words out to tell the audience in the Student Recreation Center (SRC) about her father, Ron.
As a keynote speaker for this year’s Relay for Life, which took place on March 28, Lacaillade, who was the chair of the survivor and caregiver committee for the event, told of the day she found out her father had cancer. She said she remembers every detail of the day her world was shaken.
“I had just gotten back to Conover after my 2:50 science class when my phone rang. I answered it and immediately I could tell something was wrong,” she said. “My dad began having a normal conversation with me while I heard my mom crying in the background. Finally, my dad came out and said it: ‘I went to the doctor today and got a colonoscopy. I have cancer.’”
Under the thought that cancer doesn’t sleep, 720 participants on 65 teams came together for the approximately nine-hour-long event to raise money in the hopes that one day there will be a world without cancer. The participants achieved their fundraising goal and raised over $60,000 at this year’s event. Ashley Del Rio, junior psychology major, was the participant who raised the most money, while the top team was Alpha Xi Delta.
Chris Mari-Davis, a senior human resources management major who served as a co-chair for the event for the second year in a row, says it’s a great feeling to help build the event from the planning stages to the day of the event.
“It’s been an amazing experience getting to see it really grow from one year to the next,” Mari-Davis said. “The year before [becoming co-chair] I had only participated as a participant, so to see all the behind-the-scenes work that really goes into it has been just an awesome experience. I’m really happy with the way this year’s relay has turned out.”
The Relay for Life event featured performances from several Rider groups such as the Rider Dance Ensemble, the Rider Dance Team and Rider Vibes. The laps taken throughout the event, where participants from each team walk around the SRC’s indoor track throughout the night, also have sponsors from organizations such as the Student Government Associations of both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses, as well as Hillel L’Chaim and Phi Sigma Sigma.
For Justin Giachetti, a sophomore theater major, participating hit close to home.
“My mother had cancer my freshman year of high school, so just to be here and do it every year, it means a lot to me because it just means I’m giving back to an association that has basically helped my mother and hundreds of thousands of women like her,” Giachetti said.
Rachel Jensen, a senior English major, had a family member whose cancer was treatable, but she relays so that no one will have to go through any operations or painful remedies to deal with the disease.
“My aunt was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and thankfully that was operable, but the American Cancer Society provides funds so that cancer can be researched,” Jensen said.
Other events throughout the night included the opening laps that were done by cancer survivors and their caregivers, and the Luminaria Ceremony, which saw participants walk in silence around the track of a darkened SRC with glow sticks as lights, dropping them into bags made in remembrance of those who lost their battle with cancer. This is often cited as one of the most emotional portions of the event.
This year’s Luminaria Ceremony included a dedication to Cathy-Carter Romero, the director of creative services in the Office of University Communications and Marketing, and mentor to the field hockey team, who lost her battle with cancer this past January.
“She didn’t fear cancer. She faced it head on, always ready to fight the fight with unbelievable mental toughness, strength and resolve,” field hockey Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “I can’t ever remember a time where she was not positive and optimistic about her future. She never once showed signs of giving up or giving in when it would have been much easier to do so.”
As for an emotional Lacaillade, she felt fortunate to have her father still with her as a survivor to end a dark time for her and her family.
“I have my person to call for fatherly advice, my person to call me ‘Sweetie’ when they answer the phone,” she said. “My dad will be there to walk me down the aisle and to see me have children. I have my dad, and that’s why I relay.”
By Thomas Albano