For Madison Hirsh, ’18, Relay for Life holds a personal meaning.
Last month, she returned to campus three days after her mother passed away from cancer. Hirsh’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which she fought for 30 months, the fall of her freshman year.
Hirsh knew coming back to Lehigh was of the utmost importance to her mother.
“We lived more in those 30 months than we ever had as a family,” Hirsh said. “It taught us how to become so much closer and made us realize the support system we really had.”
For the past 12 years, Lehigh has hosted Relay for Life, an event that encourages participates to walk a track for 12 straight hours in support of the fight against cancer. This year’s fundraising goal was $82,500. Participants collectively raised over $146,000.
Relay for Life quickly became Hirsh’s outlet at Lehigh as she got involved with the event her freshman year after joining Kappa Delta. After being a top fundraiser her freshman year, she was asked to join the Colleges Against Cancer executive board.
She said one of the biggest things for her is that Relay for Life gave her the opportunity to connect with people who can make a difference.
Hirsh has taken on bigger roles each year since joining CAC. She stressed how important it is that people know why they are encouraged to walk around the track for 12 hours.
“Asking people to come and sign up is an effective way to get people there but to really have them connect with the cause they need to know why they’re there,” Hirsh said. “You are there to walk around the track for 12 hours to simulate how cancer patients feel all the time — exhausted and incapable to keep going on.”
One of Relay for Life’s goals is encouraging people to come together for a common cause and bringing those who have experienced the hardships of cancer together. Relay brought Hirsh to people like Emily Brown, ’19, experienced a similar situation prior to this year’s relay.
“We talked at Relay (for Life) the other night, and it was just good to know you have someone who really and truly understands where you’re at today,” Hirsh said. “Cancer really connects you to people and gives you a whole new set of relationships which, no, I wouldn’t trade that for not having my mom deal with cancer, but it’s really connected me to people.”
Brown’s mother was diagnosed with cancer around the time she graduated high school.
Her mother always encouraged her to live her life without letting the news affect her school and social life, but Brown found that hard as she entered freshman year at Lehigh. She struggled to cope with the news during her freshman year, as she found it hard to tell her friends about the diagnosis.
Brown’s mother passed away early March. Motivated to continue the fight against cancer, Brown raised over $52,000 for Relay for Life, which was approximately $50,000 more than the next participant.
“This year at Relay (for Life) I had a totally different experience than I did last year,” Brown said. “Last year at the closing ceremony, not many people were there and I didn’t want people to feel bad for me with my mom, but it was different.”
At the closing ceremony this year, almost all of Brown’s pledge class and upperclassmen in Alpha Omicron Pi were there to support her.
“Greek life gets such a bad reputation but they do stuff like this where my whole house was at relay for a while and made it feel so much more special,” Brown said. “Having that connection through Greek life really made this year’s relay for me.”
Prior to the luminaria ceremony, which was dedicated to Hirsh’s and Brown’s mothers, Sage Chasen, ’19, spoke for the second year in a row about his battle with cancer.
“I didn’t really know what Relay for Life was prior to coming here,” Chasen said. “I was asked to speak, and last year was the first time I really got up to talk about cancer, and the whole experience is a good reminder of how I should be looking at life.”
Chasen performed “XO” by Beyoncé to show the crowd how his battle brought him to love music.
“Not that anything good comes from cancer,” Chasen said, “but (Relay for Life) is a great way to make light off all of the situations.”