By Julia Kirk
Each year approximately 7.6 million people die from cancer globally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and because cancer never sleeps, Rider hosted a 12-hour Relay For Life event for the fifth year in a row on April 6. So far, the university has raised more than $51,000 as a result of online and in-person donations.
Relay For Life, which is the signature fundraiser of the American Cancer Society, helps raise money for the fight against cancer. Every year, the events — which take place around the world — collect more than $400 million for those who are battling the devastating illness.
According to Relay For Life Chair Bridget Guardia, 716 participants camped out in the Student Recreation Center (SRC). This year, the theme of the event was Hawaiian luau, and various Rider student organizations, such as clubs, sports teams, honor societies and Greek chapters, formed teams of students.
The only requirements for the event were that each team had to have at least one participant on the track at all times and participants were urged to donate a small amount. If you someone signed up early it was only a $10 registration fee or a $20 fee if he or she signed up later.
Sigma Phi Epsilon raised the most money, totaling $4,905.
Guardia said she was pleased with fundraiser’s outcome.
“I think the event went great,” said Guardia. “Everyone seemed to have fun. We met our fundraising goal as well. We couldn’t have asked for more. I’m excited to make next year even better.”
There were also performances by the Rider Vibes and Rider Dance Ensemble. Kathy Walkie from The Real Housewives of New Jersey was also in attendance and took pictures with several clubs and organizations.
This year’s keynote speaker was Ashley Pichardo, a Rider alumna from the class of 2012, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) — a rare, rapid-growing form of cancer — in October.
“In the past six months I’ve been through three rounds of chemotherapy, three liver biopsies, three procedures to insert ports in my veins, five bone marrow biopsies and a life-saving bone marrow transplant,” Pichardo said. “These past months have been intense, and I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anybody. I am now recovering from my bone marrow transplant as the transplant took a toll on my body.”
Pichardo was at Rider’s first Relay For Life event in 2009 and has been attending them ever since. She is scheduled to receive her official remission results within the next week.
“Participating in Relay for the past couple years was an experience, to say the least,” said Pichardo. “They were always emotional for me as I relayed for family and friends that I have lost. This year I am probably going to be more of an emotional mess because I am not only relaying for myself but also my grandfather, who passed away while I was in treatment.”
When Pichardo received a letter in the mail asking her to speak for Relay For Life, she realized that her story of survival could be shared with others affected by cancer.
“Being a part of this event as the speaker is something I would never have imagined, but it is such an honor that they thought of me,” said Pichardo. “It excites me to know that I am a part of something so grand: the fight against cancer. So many people are touched by cancer and it isn’t necessarily something we all speak about openly because it is such a sour subject. Being able to have an event like this opens up the conversation and unites people under one community.”
According to relayforlife.org, Relay fundraisers are held in more than 521,000 communities in 20 countries. All the proceeds are used to invest in groundbreaking research in every type of cancer and to provide free information and services to cancer patients and their families.
With the help of the team members and other donors, the fight for every birthday threatened by cancer is growing stronger. Almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, and Relay For Life serves to not only remind us that people are still fighting, but to remember those we have lost.
As a participant on the School of Education relay team, junior elementary education major Lindsey Hegenauer said she was touched by the event and the overall spirit of the night.
“Hearing Ashley’s story, walking the track and spending the night honoring those that have fought cancer really made this night special for me,” Hegenauer said. “It’s an event that brings the campus community together for an amazing reason.”