The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

A difference with every step: Relay for Life supports American Cancer Society

It’s a story he’s told a lot of people on a lot of different occasions. A story about a happy go lucky teenager enjoying the second half of his freshman year at UW-Eau Claire when a routine checkup resulted in the discovery of cancer and him withdrawing for chemo treatments just two weeks into spring semester: a story about himself.

It’s the story of junior education major Justin Young. Now cancer free, he serves as president of Colleges Against Cancer, a student organization that is currently busy planning the 10th annual Relay For Life event on campus.

Relay For Life is a volunteer driven event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Since 1985, relays have been hosted in communities, on college campuses and military bases. Participants make up teams of 6-15 people and walk around a track for the duration of the event with at least one team member walking at all times.

This years’ Relay For Life event will last from 7 p.m.- 7 a.m. beginning April 19 in the Ade Olson addition of McPhee. Participants walk on the upstairs track and teams set up campsites below on the basketball court. The rest of the building is simultaneously buzzing with an array of activities from a volleyball tournament to flip cup played with soda.

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Junior Kelsey Dumanch serves as the executive officer/chair of the event.

“The idea is that cancer never sleeps and that’s why it’s an over night event,” Dumanch said.  “So everybody should always be walking and it kind of represents the journey that cancer patients go through.”

Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s biggest fundraiser so they assign an advisor to every Relay event. Roberta Christianson oversees eight different Relays including the one on campus. Six years ago Christianson joined the non-profit world in hopes of making a bigger difference. She said it’s amazing to see college students participating in Relay and doing something bigger than themselves.

Some members of Colleges against Cancer are seen here at last year's Relay for Life event.
Some members of Colleges against Cancer are seen here at last year’s Relay for Life event.

Relay events are comprised of three parts: the opening ceremony (celebrate), the Luminaria  or candlelight ceremony (remember), and the closing ceremony (fight back).

“The opening ceremony is to get everyone pumped up: in the past we’ve had the cheer and stunt team pump everyone up and the band and stuff like that and we’re working on getting that again for this year,” Dumanch said.

Last year the opening ceremony was especially important to Young. Along with his family and a few friends Young was entered as a member of the team “The Young and the Restless” but before the walking could get underway he stood up and spoke at the opening ceremony.

“When I got to the Relay I just kept thinking ‘what should I say?’ and I just kind of went up there and said stuff straight from the heart. I poured my heart out and talked about my family and how they supported me,” Young said.

After kicking off the night by telling both his story and the story of his grandparents, who both had lost their battle to cancer the previous year Young proceeded to walk through the night meeting many people along the way. What he remembers most is people’s reaction to his speech.

“Everyone said my talk wasn’t the dark and sad story it was peppy and positive and gave people inspiration,” Young said. “It was an uplifting message instead of a sad, gloomy thing.”

Dumanch and Young both said the mood of the night shifts around the time of the Luminaria ceremony, when candles are lit and those who have been lost are remembered. Young said this part of the event is very heartfelt with a lot of tears and a lot of hugs, but it’s not without hope: hope which Young has had all along.

“It’s just an eye-opening experience to see how much love and compassion there is out there and just to see the strong urgency for fighting for this cure so people don’t have to go through this anymore,” Young said.

The same energy and positive attitude that Young now puts into the planning and executing of this event is the same way he faced his cancer treatment a few years back.

After four rounds of chemo Young underwent 20 sessions of radiation: 5 days a week for 4 weeks. Everyday he and his dad would get in the car in the morning and drive an hour and a half to the cities from their home in Clayton. Three hours of driving for radiation treatment that only lasted 15 minutes at most.

When the process began Young and his father discovered the clinic to be sad and gloomy. His dad had been laid off from his job just a few months before Young’s diagnosis, which Young called a blessing in disguise because it allowed his father to be with him every step of his journey. They decided to do something to change the mood in the clinic.

“My dad and I decided to make it interesting for the people who get to see us everyday so I wore a different hat everyday I went in there,” Young said.

From a bright Hawaiian hat to a football helmet, construction hardhat and cowboy hat they indeed kept things interesting. When Young’s final session was drawing near the duo decided they needed a grand finale.

He walked in on his final day wearing his high school graduation cap and gown screaming “Pomp and Circumstance” as loud as he could with thank you notes that looked like diplomas for the doctors, receptionists and therapists who had helped him along.

“We like to think that we made a change in there because we started seeing people wearing bright hats,” Young said.

Young said his positive attitude throughout his journey came both from the strong faith and support of his family and just from the kindness of people willing to help. He said he is continually amazed by people’s willingness and urgency to fight for a cure.

Sophomore Shintaro Yamazaki is just one of those many people fighting for the cure. This year will be Yamazaki’s first Relay For Life event. As a member of Delta Sigma Phi he will be a part of the UWEC Greek team, but he decided to take his fundraising efforts to the next level.

Yamazaki wasn’t satisfied by the results of the other fundraising events of the fraternity and knew he could do better. He set up a personal web page letting people know if he could raise $400 by the event he would shave his head. In just two days he raised $640.

Yamazaki, along with a few fraternity brothers and friends, will shave their heads before participating in Relay For Life. He knows that promising a bald head won’t be able to raise money year after year so he wants to take advantage of it now and raise as much money as possible before April 19.

Everyone has their own reason to Relay. For Dumanch it is important to remember “that it could be me, it could be you, it could be my little brother … It could be anybody. With one in two people being diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime it’s really sad and scary to think about but it gives you hope that there’s people working for a cure and everybody is working towards helping somehow.”

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A difference with every step: Relay for Life supports American Cancer Society