Tamara Huson, '15, and Kate Hamilton, '15, co-presidents of Colleges Against Cancer, speak at the Relay for Life kick-off on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. They announced the theme of Relay for Life, which will be birthdays, and encouraged people to register at the kick-off. (Kerry Mallett/B&W photo)

Relay for Life kickoff encourages fundraising for, participation in annual event


Lehigh’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer held a kickoff for Relay For Life to announce changes to encourage more student participation in the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

At the kickoff, Tamara Huson, ’15, and Kate Hamilton, ’15, the co-presidents of CAC, announced that the 2015 Relay For Life will be birthday-themed. Started in 2006, both CAC and Relay For Life will celebrate the event’s 10th anniversary at Lehigh during the 2015 academic  year.

The 2015-2016 school year also marks the 30th anniversary of the national Relay For Life, whose motto is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

Each year, CAC invites a survivor to share a powerful story about how cancer has affected his or her life. At the kickoff event, Rebecca Youssef, ’15, shared the story of a girl who was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia when she was only two and a half years old.

The little girl in the story “lost all her hair, right down to her eyelashes, (and) went through all the treatment that was aggressive and rigorous, even for adults,” Youssef said.

According to Youssef, the little girl fought the disease for nine months before finally going into remission.

“Her parents had been told not to be very hopeful, for her best chance at a cure could only come from a bone marrow transplant, but a match was never found,”  Youssef said.

After she came back from the hospital, the young girl suffered from hearing loss and had to be potty-trained again. As months turned into years, she overcame all the hurdles with a constantly positive attitude, Youssef said.

Fifteen years after the girl’s initial diagnosis, she was considered cured.

“Countless times, people tend to give up when faced with bad news and dire circumstances, but not this girl,” Youssef said. “Whenever I feel a little down, I always think of her and her struggle to survive in the face of impossible odds. Her story inspires me and motivates me like nothing else can. You may be wondering how and why I know her story so well. It is because that little girl who beat the odds is me.”

Youssef’s story left the whole room speechless.

“Rebecca Youssef’s speech was very emotional for me and really captured my interest,” said Mikayla Mayoryk, ’17. “I attended Relay for Life largely out of curiosity and didn’t expect to hear such a powerful and inspiring story. Her story inspired me to help others do the same thing. I had no expectations going in, but it was such a touching event that I cannot help but be excited to contribute.”

Last year, 850 participants signed up for the event. It was also the biggest attendance at the Luminaria ceremony ever since CAC was founded at Lehigh. According to Hamilton, the CAC hopes to have 1,000 participants signed up for Relay this year, with a target goal of $60,000 raised by the end of the event.

Despite the success of Relay for Life in the past, CAC faced several challenges at last year’s event. One of the greatest difficulties was getting people motivated to fundraise, Huson said.

She suggested several simple ways to raise money to kickoff attendees, including sending out pre-scripted emails through the website asking family and friends to donate.

Additionally, this year, CAC members came up with new methods to improve personal fundraising, including a team mentoring program.

Huson said that CAC’s executive board is very excited to implement its new program this year.  They will be working one-on-one with team captains to show them how easy it is to fundraise and get their teams motivated to do something as simple as sending out emails. If  1,000 people to sign up and each of those individuals raises $100, the organization could raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society’s work in finding a cure, providing support to patients and ultimately creating a world with more birthdays.

Another big challenge noticed from the past three years is getting people to stay all night, or until 7 a.m. the following morning. As a result, the schedule of this year’s Relay For Life will also be shortened from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

“This is much more doable for most students, and I hope to see the room full for our closing ceremony,” Huson said. “Three a.m. isn’t too late for college students.”

CAC will hold several more events throughout this semester, including Lights of Hope during Pink Week in October; a Hope Lodge Trip in November; and the Great American Smokeout in November. The ultimate event, Relay for Life itself, will take place in March 2015.

“The Relay For Life kickoff was a great success,” said Joanna Warren, ’15, treasurer of CAC. “I was very happy to see (that) everyone who attended enjoyed the event. Our guest speaker, Rebecca Youssef, captivated the audience, and guests had the opportunity to learn more about what Relay is all about.

“We had so many students who already signed up, putting us closer to our goal of 55 teams,” Warren said. “We look forward to seeing more people at our future events.”

To echo the sentiments of Relay for Life and CAC’s mission, “Until cancer sleeps, neither will we.”

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