The Daily Gamecock

USC relays for life, raises thousands for cancer research

As candles were lit, tents were set up and music raged on, students remembered why being a part of Relay for Life was important to them.

For 12 hours this weekend, 74 teams gathered together to walk the night away to fight cancer. Those 74 teams raised $164,087 for cancer research Friday night.

For many students, this year was their first Relay for Life. But for others, it was another year to honor and support those that they personally knew that were affected by cancer.

“My first day of my senior year [of high school], I found out that my grandmother had colon cancer, and that was her first day of chemotherapy,” said Lora Stearns, director of USC’s Relay for Life. “She lives in Texas, and all the time she would tell me that what we were doing in South Carolina was giving her hope to keep fighting. It showed me that what we do here has no boundaries.”

Stories like Stearns’ were told throughout the night, as hundreds of people walked laps around the field at the Blatt Physical Education Center.

First-year visual communications student Melissa Bugeski served as a committee member for this year’s Relay for Life. Bugeski said it’s important to remember cancer affects everyone, something she knew to be especially true this weekend.

“My cousin, when he was 11, was diagnosed with a brain tumor that he had a 15 percent chance to live. He’s been cancer-free for a while now, but during the survivor lap, my mom texted me and told me that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “It’s kind of a rough night, but there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with people who are in the fight with me and with her. That’s now my main reason to relay.”

At 10 p.m., the lights were shut off, and only candles shining through luminary bags along the field gave off light. Students held each other’s hands as they prepared to walk a silent lap in honor of those who had lost their fight.

But that silent lap wasn’t just about the losing side of the fight.

“Many of those that have fought the battle of cancer are no longer with us,” a student presenter told the crowd from the stage. “But instead of mourning their loss, we choose to celebrate their lives.”

A chair sat on the stage, symbolizing those who died. A small table stood beside it to symbolize the frailty of a single patient. A lemon and salt sat on the table, to represent the bitter battle and tears shed from patients and family members, respectively.

The most important symbol of all was the burning candle.

“The candle represents the light of hope, hope represented by cancer survivors and the hope for a cure discovered as a result of the work of the medical profession made able by funds that are generated through events such as Relay for Life,” the student speaker said.

As students silently reflected, tears streamed down the cheeks of some, and the USC community came together to see one another through the night.

“Seeing how many people [cancer] touches provides its own effects to people who are pushed to do something about it. You’re going to fight back for people that are still fighting, to celebrate those that have won and remember those who’ve lost,” Stearns said. “Don’t give up.”

With nine hours to go, students found ways to keep the energy going. From fried Oreos at 2 a.m. to ultimate Frisbee challenges, dance parties and drag shows, the event was arguably one of the biggest parties of the semester.

“The big event is important because cancer effects everybody — there’s no one that hasn’t been touched by it,” Bugeski said. “I think just keeping it on the forefront of people’s minds that ‘Hey, cancer’s a big deal and even though you may not have it or you might not have a parent that has it, it’s still there and it still needs to be fought. We need to finish that fight.’”

Student organizations continued to fundraise throughout the night, among them The Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Straight Alliance.

“When we come together as a community, we can do so much for the people,” said Devon Sherrell, second-year political science student and president of BGLSA. “It’s important to be aware and know how to donate your time, not necessarily your money.”

As the field got lighter, students packed up their tents and let their success sink in.

“Throughout the night, we’ve been tired, we’ve been frustrated and we have been ready to give up,” Stearns said at the closing ceremony. “Your night represents the journey of cancer. And today, we welcome a new day, a new life and a new hope brought by a cure.”