Hundreds of Elon University students gathered to increase cancer awareness in the annual Colleges Against Cancer Relay for Life 12-hour fundraiser April 23-24. Despite having to be moved inside because of  rain, the event shattered previous fundraising records with a total of $90,388.61. 

Though the event financially succeeded, Relay for Life brands itself as an event with the goal of raising hope. For almost all of the students, families and community members in attendance at this year’s event, cancer has impacted their lives or the lives of someone they know.

Senior Nicole “Colie” Dennion was a varsity soccer player when she found out she had cancer two and a half years ago. Coming off a season of success, Dennion was devastated when she was told that a baseball-sized mass had been found in her chest. After multiple chemotherapy rounds, Dennion continues her battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. But on April 23, she shared with her peers that she remains positive and hopeful.

“This is where I am now in my journey,” Dennion said. “I will keep doing what I have been this whole time — fighting and living my life how I want to despite what has been thrown my way.”

Because of stories like Dennion’s, Elon became the largest collegiate Relay for Life in North Carolina. The community-based event consisted of teams with a member who carried a baton and a luminary-lit track to honor those affected by cancer. 

Throughout Relay for Life, at least one member of each team walks along a track at all times as an act of solidarity to represent how cancer never sleeps. This year’s theme was “More Birthdays,” to honor those who can celebrate one more birthday as well as those who have lost their fight.

As teams flooded into the PARC in Danieley Center, participants watched various performers, listened to live music, ate at food trucks and participated in table activities. Participants could  even donate up to eight inches of their hair on-site to contribute to wigs for chemotherapy patients. This year, a ticket system was used as an easier way for participants to raise funds and do activities without having to use cash.

The funds raised through Relay for Life events across the country go to cancer research and support programs that ease the lives of patients and their families who have been impacted by the disease.

Some programs include a facility where families can stay when they cannot afford accommodations while traveling for treatment, a transportation program so patients never miss a treatment and a makeover program that helps women battling cancer appreciate their appearance and self-image during treatments.

Throughout the night, many survivors shared their stories. Like Dennion, they encouraged those affected by cancer to see the brighter side in the battle. Dennion told those at the event to laugh at themselves, be kind and smile. She said she hopes others will find inspiration in her journey.

“It’s not the struggle that defines you,” she said. “It’s how you respond and react to those struggles that define your character.”

Sophomore Charlotte Hinrichs lost her father two months ago to cancer. She said while the event was emotional, she found support in others sharing their stories.

“During the night, I was able to feel the comfort from several of my peers who have similar stories as me,” Hinrichs said. “We are still learning how to live without our loved ones but are slowly learning how to adjust.”

Hinrichs’ personal fundraising page was the top individual fundraiser, raising $4,915. Her original goal was just $350. 

“Having so many people donate to my page really showed and reminded me how many people loved my dad and what an amazing impact he had on their lives,” Hinrichs said.

During the second shift of Relay for Life, multiple events were designed to keep participants awake. Some included eating competitions, a hypnotist, a DJ, zumba, bingo and sunrise yoga.

In between these events, even more survivors shared their inspirational stories.

Ovarian cancer survivor Linda Harris told a story about early detection saving her life. She encouraged the Relay for Life participants to listen to their bodies because not all tests work. 

“If I had ignored the problems, I would not be here today,” Harris said. “I am now 20 months cancer-free.”

The last speaker of the event was Elon Director of Campus Recreation Larry Mellinger. Mellinger was diagnosed with cancer six years ago while living in Vermont. He said he believes the experience of having cancer brought him closer to his friends and family.

“Nothing prepares you for that moment when you hear, ‘I have cancer,’” Mellinger said. “I felt like my head had been chopped off of my body.”

Mellinger pointed out the need for cancer education. Through personal experience, Mellinger researched his own type of testicular cancer and made sure he was prepared to ask tough questions to the doctors and nurses treating him.

“You can’t worry about the things you have no control over,” Mellinger said. “But the things you can control — control the hell out of them.”