Phila U. Relay for Life raises $30,000 for cancer research

Not the usual “all-nighter,” hundreds of local college students stayed up all night on Friday to help fight cancer.

Philadelphia University held its fifth annual Relay for Life on Friday and Saturday. The event, designed to raise money for cancer research, is and was an overnight affair, with teams of volunteers camped out in the school’s gymnasium from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

At least one representative from each team would walk the gym’s mezzanine-level track throughout the course of the evening, symbolizing how the fight to cure cancer never sleeps. When not walking, team members could participate in a variety of activities designed to keep spirits high.

Organized by the Phila U. chapter of Colleges Against Cancer and sponsored by the American Cancer Society, organizers hoped to raise more than $35,000. Since the event was first held at Phila U. in 2009, more than $135,000 total has been raised through Relay for Life to fund cancer research, according to university spokespersons.

Louise McShane, a Phila U. staffer currently fighting cancer, credited those present on Friday with making her path to recovery easier by contributing to cancer research funding.

“Two out of three cancer patients survive, and I intend to be one of those two,” she said. “I also intend to make that stat three out of three.”

Personal ties 

McShane, along with other cancer survivors present on Friday, made the first laps around the gymnasium’s elevated track shortly after 6:30 p.m. They were soon joined by members of the numerous teams in attendance.

Matt Knowles was among the tie-dyed members of the team named “Hike for Mike.” Knowles, a resident of Corning, NY, was in Philadelphia to visit his girlfriend – a Relay for Life organizer – and commemorate members of his family who had passed away from cancer-related illnesses, including his grandfather and a cousin.

Walking briskly behind Knowles was Brianna DiPietro and Khristine Zamadics.

DiPietro, a junior at Phila U. studying graphic design communication, was walking on Friday because she had participated at cancer fundraisers in high school, and as she put it, she “was really into this.”

For Zamadics, a Phila U. freshman studying fashion merchandising was an old pro at the relay, having planned her high school’s Relay for Life events. To stay awake all night, Zamadics was employing some time-tested techniques for staying up, such as a pre-relay nap and lots of caffeine.

As this was DiPietro’s third Relay for Life, she knew that the various recreational activities would help ward off fatigue, and that Saturday brought with it the promise of sleep.

“It’s usually about one a.m. when everyone starts getting tired,” she observed.

1 a.m. Saturday

At one a.m., the gymnasium was still throbbing with activity, with preparations being made on the court for dodgeball. While pulsing dance music kept everyone moving – and awake – a closer inspection of the face and eyes of those present revealed that fatigue was indeed setting in.

On the track above, about two dozen people were still keeping the flame. Among them was Phila U. student Victoria Ewing and Sam Foust, a psychology major at Philadelphia Community College.

Foust was there because a close family friend had died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago.

“Supporting the cause means a lot to me,” he said.

Ewing, a junior majoring in graphic design, came to support Foust and to remain vigilant about cancer occurrences within her own family.

When NewsWorks caught up with them, it was their third time up, averaging eight laps per attempt. Their team had raised $1,000, a sizable portion of the $30,000 that was raised by over 500 participants in the relay, according to event organizers on Sunday night.

“There’s a lot of heart that goes into it,” said Foust of the relay. “For people that it means something to, they’re going to give it everything they have.”

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