When freshman Katy Mersmann was three years old, her little sister died from leukemia.
Friday, she had an opportunity to honor her life and to fight against the disease that took her.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a really great event, but for me, it’s not about the event,” Mersmann said. “It’s about the fundraising, and a lot of people don’t really understand that.”
MU’s Relay for Life was an all-night event, featuring events from live music to dance performances to sumo wrestling. Although most events were light-hearted, the evening had serious overtones: honoring cancer survivors and fundraising to find a cure.
Mersmann, like others who spent the night at Relay, wasn’t in it for the games or shows or prizes. Having lost a sister, a grandmother, a grandfather and aunts and uncles to cancer, the 18-year-old said she fundraises for those who never had a chance to really live.
Mersmann’s sister, Carrie, was two months old when she passed away from leukemia. Mersmann said the disease took Carrie unexpectedly when her parents took her in for a checkup.
“(The day she died,) we were standing in the living room, and my parents came home, and they walked in without the baby carrier,” she said. “My grandma said, you know, ‘Where’s Carrie?’ and my parents started crying and told us that she died in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.”
Since then, Mersmann has been fighting back against the disease. Raising $1,300 this year alone, she is the third highest Relay fundraiser at MU.
“Cancer really runs in my family,” she said. “I kind of do Relay really selfishly because I know when it’s my time to go, it’s going to be cancer.”
Mersmann’s team, as well as the other 83 teams, spent 12 hours in the Student Recreation Complex taking turns circling the track and attending events, as well as listening to survivors’ stories and participating in the Luminaria ceremony, where participants lit candles in honor of friends and family who were lost due to cancer.
The event raised more than $80,000, which will go toward cancer research and cancer patients, according to Mizzou Relay’s Twitter account.
Relay for Life committee chairman Bret Dalgaard said the Las Vegas-themed night was about honoring cancer survivors who “beat the odds.”
“(My favorite part is) the excitement coming from the survivors, really,” he said. “We’re here to recognize them, to promote advocacy (and) just spread the word and the light. Our big thing is to celebrate, remember and fight back.”
As an oncology nurse, Judy Horner said when her son and daughter-in-law were diagnosed with the disease, it moved even closer to home.
“I think that probably the most difficult part for me was knowing what they were going to go through,” she said. “I always wanted to fix it.”
Her son Bill’s and his wife Heather’s diagnoses inspired Horner to get involved with Relay. Although both are now in remission, Horner continues to support the cause.
“I think a lot of the times when you think about cancer, it’s always very sad,” she said. “But then when you come to an event like this, everybody is smiling and enthusiastic and it’s just kind of refreshing (to see) everybody working with positive energy.”
Not every cancer patient can be lucky enough to recover from the disease. The American Cancer Society projects it will claim another 577,190 people in the United States this year. But some, like Carrie, leave a lasting impression on the lives they leave behind. MU’s Relay for Life was a place for those people to come together.
“She was two months old, and we didn’t get anything, we didn’t even know she had cancer until it was too late,” Mersmann said. “So, I Relay for the kids that don’t even make it that long.”