Columbia resident and cancer survivor Maureen Funk celebrated her birthday at the annual “Relay for Life of Mizzou” event on Saturday. Funk is now five years cancer-free, and she thanks the fundraising event for positively influencing her recovery.
“My message is of hope because of the work you have done,” Funk said in a speech in the opening ceremony. “It is everybody who comes together and says, 'We are going to beat this horrible disease.'”
Relay for Life, a 12-hour fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, celebrates cancer survivors, remembers those lost to cancer, honors those who are undergoing treatment and inspires participants to take actions to fight back cancer. The event also recognized caregivers who have fought alongside cancer patients to defeat the disease.
“Everybody here will pledge to fight cancer, whether it is through helping the American Cancer Society through donations or whether they are going to make a lifestyle change themselves that will help them reduce the risk of having cancer later,” ACS staff member Jessica Ellison said.
This year’s 789 fundraising participants, who included 63 student teams, raised more than $77,000 for the ACS. The funds are used for cancer research and to help alleviate the cost of hospital accommodations and transportation for cancer patients. ACS also hosts special self-esteem and support programs for women who are undergoing treatment for or recovering from breast cancer.
Participants walked around a track built specifically for the event at the Brewer Fieldhouse in the Student Recreation Complex. The laps participants ran symbolized cancer patients’ struggle to keep fighting and to not give up hope.
Relay for Life began when Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Wa., decided he wanted to provide more funding to his local ACS office. In 1985, to fundraise for the organization, Klatt circled the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for 24 hours, and his friends paid $25 to run or walk with him for half an hour. Klatt raised $27,000 to fight cancer, according to the Relay for Life website.
The following year marked the first official Relay for Life event. Nineteen teams ran the track at the historic Tacoma Public Schools’ Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000. Since 1986, Relay for Life has raised more than $4.5 billion at more than 5,200 annual events across the U.S., according to the Relay for Life website.
Mizzou Relay for Life Event Chair Bret Dalgaard has worked for Relay for Life as a team captain and steering committee member for several years. At the event, his third as event chair, Delgaard shared his personal connection with the organization.
“I was touched by cancer as a child,” he said. “My grandpa passed away from pancreatic cancer when I was in second grade and then in fifth grade a good friend passed away from leukemia.”
Dalgaard first became involved with Camp Rainbow, a camp that provides a free camping experience to children undergoing treatment for, and survivors of, cancer and other blood-related diseases.
“We started going to Relays as a camp, and I got into Relay there,” he said. “This is actually my eighth year doing Relay.”
Mizzou recently became a Colleges Against Cancer chapter, a nationwide college students' network dedicated to eliminating cancer through advocacy, education, Relay for Life events and survivorship, Delgaard said. The university will have more advocacy events throughout the year.
Several student organizations, like the Muslim Student Organization, helped fundraise at the event by selling items or hosting games. MSO sold hummus for $2 and provided henna tattoos for $3 to raise a total of $473 for ACS.
“I know MSO was involved with it last year, and I thought it would be a good thing to do it again this year, just because everyone’s affected by cancer,” MSO President Farah El-Jayyousi said. “Actually, all of us in our organization have a relative or someone affected by cancer.”
El-Jayyousi, a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in May of 2012 during her freshman year of college and underwent treatment in summer of 2012. She is now cancer-free.
“I also want to help fundraise because I know that American Cancer Society does a lot of great work for people going through cancer and I know a lot of people don’t have it as easy as I did,” El-Jayyousi said. “I want them someday to find a cure for cancer, and if I can help out in a small way, then I’ll do it.”