No one will deny that recently, there has been a slump in funds raised for Georgetown’s annual Relay for Life event that benefits the American Cancer Society. It has been cited frequently by The Hoya and the Voice, and opinions have ranged from calling Relay “not the most worthwhile charity” in 2012 to lamenting that “it’s troubling that fundraising has waned while the cause endures” in 2013. Over the past four years, I have encountered similar viewpoints, so I wanted to share the perspective of someone on the inside, as someone who has lost close friends and family to cancer and also as someone who works on the Relay Mission Committee that travels to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Baltimore each month.
People who associate with Relay do not pester students for funds because we find it fun. Those of us who work with Relay — whether as part of the committee, as a team captain or as a participant — do what they do because they are mad at this disease that will not go away.
In one single year, two beloved people were taken from me by cancer. One was 19 years old, poised to take the world by storm. Nick graduated high school as the class valedictorian despite missing weeks of school because of cancer treatments, and he was attending college — and acing every class — in the hopes of one day running his own theme park to bring joy to thousands of people every day. But he passed away on Palm Sunday, 2013 after his three-year battle with desmoplastic small round cell tumors that wore his body down to the point of failure.
The other was my Uncle Denny, my father’s younger brother. My uncle ran marathons for recreation and drove an RV around the country with my aunt to go hiking, climbing, running and camping. While my father has struggled with dementia for the past 10 years, we all thought my uncle was invincible — nobody would ever have guessed that he was in his late 60s. When he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, we all assumed he would beat it easily. Prostate cancer is often seen as one of the “easy” cancers, comparatively. Even when we heard it was aggressive, we all thought, “He’s in shape. He runs marathons. He can handle anything. This is just a detour.” But he passed away June 21, 2013, shortly after having to go on oxygen because the cancer had spread and was affecting his ability to breathe. At his viewing, my father sobbed out, “I should be the one up there, not him.”
To cope with these losses, I joined the Mission Committee this year in an attempt to give back and get more involved. By doing so, I have seen firsthand that the money raised at Relay goes to causes like the Hope Lodges, which are beautiful places where cancer patients can stay, free of charge, during their treatments. As one guest in Baltimore told me, “It was either here or stay in a hospital room. But I’m not really sick — I don’t want to be confined to a bed! And you know what hospital food is like!” Every cancer patient I have met at the Baltimore Hope Lodge has been in a happy and positive mood — a mood that I’m sure is supported by the fact that they don’t have to stare at sterilized hospital equipment in between their treatment days.
I know that many people criticize Relay because the American Cancer Society has an overhead, meaning that some donated funds go to fundraising expenses and salaries. However, context and perspective are important here. Many of the largest nonprofit organizations struggle with similar issues. No large charity can function without some degree of overhead, and while the American Cancer Society is not perfect, it performs tremendous services with the money it receives. I rest well at night knowing that I raise money for Relay, as I have seen with my own eyes the gratitude in the faces and voices of the patients I meet.
If that roadblock wasn’t enough, it sometimes feels like many at Georgetown view Relay as one giant party, which it is, to some extent. It is a party to celebrate those who are fighting and those who have beat their cancers into remission. It is also a party to celebrate the lives of people we have lost to this relentless disease. However, the party atmosphere is sometimes deceptive — the party is one day. Twelve hours, to be exact. But the fight is forever (for now). Cancer diagnoses don’t stop the morning after Relay. Cancer treatments don’t stop the morning after Relay. For that matter, they don’t stop in the days, weeks and months before Relay, either.
Don’t wait until the day before Relay to register or ask friends and family to support you. People are receiving chemotherapy treatments today. People are hearing the words, “You have cancer,” today. People are dying, today.
Join the fight today.
MICHELLE DAILEY is a senior in the College. She is a member of the Relay for Life Mission Committee and team captain for the Relay Pep Band.