By BRITTINY LENE’
Grab your sneakers, find some friends and prepare to fight cancer with Gannon University’s annual Relay for Life event, which will be held beginning at 1 p.m. Friday.
This event is to celebrate those who have defeated cancer, inspire those who are fighting and remember those who are no longer around but are still loved and missed.
Jamie DiFrank, the student president of Gannon’s Relay for Life Club, said this year’s theme is “Celebrate Life.” The event will last for 12 hours straight and each hour represents a month of the year.
“This was chosen because cancer never sleeps or takes a holiday, and it also reminds us that there are so many things to celebrate throughout a year no matter what health condition we are in,” DiFrank said.
Garrett Jageman, a freshman pre-pharmacy student, is one of the many students who are interested in attending Relay for Life.
Jageman said that cancer not only affects the people who have it, but everyone in that person’s life in some shape or form.
“For the types of events like this, the more they’re held – and the more they are publicized – it offers a larger support network for people that are affected by it,” Jageman said.
Jageman said both of his grandfathers on both sides of his family have died from cancer.
“I realized the effect that it could have on people and the toll,” Jageman said. “It’s really hard seeing both of your parents have lost someone that they were close to. You could personally see the effects of how hard it could be for some people.”
Although many families and friends are forced to stand by and watch while their loved ones struggle, they are not the only ones affected by this. Caregivers, nurses and sometimes doctors form a relationship – or friendship – with these patients over time.
Because of this, this event is open to anyone and will have something for everyone.
Relay for Life will kick off at Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, located at 103 W. Fourth St.
At 5 p.m. there will be a ceremony for the survivors, which will include a speech from Nancy Kujawinski, a committee member and cancer survivor.
Once the ceremony is finished, there will be two separate but equally important walks taking place – the Survivors’ Walk and the Caregivers’ Walk.
At the end of the day there will be a Luminaria Ceremony to honor loved ones who have died from cancer.
At 10 p.m. ceremony participants can purchase luminaria, little paper bags, until the ceremony begins.
“It is a truly remarkable ceremony that breaks down what going through cancer is really like by discussing the things everyone knows happens, but no one gets to talk about,” DiFrank said.
“It’s a very emotional time where we all come together and realize why we’re really here.”
Families and friends will be given their paper luminarias to decorate. Some will be adorned with elaborate drawings and messages, while others may simply have a name written on them. Once finished they are filled with glow sticks placed around the track for the ceremony.
“It’s a very emotional and solemn time where all the participants realize that it’s OK to be angry, sad and confused as to why our loved ones have or have had cancer,” DiFrank said.
“It’s OK to cry in front of all these people, because we’ve all gone through the same thing. It is very powerful and fuels the fire to fight cancer that’s in us all.”
These luminarias are a symbol for those struggling with the effects of cancer. They offer hope and comfort to some, while offering closure to others. By knowing they are not grieving alone, this event can help the coping process.
In addition, several “teams” will have their own table in the gym around the relay track with their own on-site fundraisers such as selling items or services for a donation, like doughnuts, haircuts and games.
“Relay for Life is all about fun and recognizing that we’re all brought together to fight cancer,” DiFrank said.
For those who cannot attend, 90.5 WERG will be broadcasting the event live.