Cancer is a disease we are all way too familiar with. As the second leading cause of death in the United States, most of us have been personally impacted by cancer or know someone who has. In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer were projected to be diagnosed across the nation, according to the National Cancer Institute.
So how do we outsmart cancer? For the past 14 years, FIU has partnered with the American Cancer Society to find a way to do just that. Organized by a student committee and led by the Center for Leadership and Service, FIU participates annually in Relay for Life—a national fundraising event benefiting American Cancer Society programs, including cancer research and prevention studies.
“This is more than just a fundraiser. We are changing lives. We are changing people’s outlook on life and making a positive impact, and that’s what we do at FIU,” said Elizabeth Bejar, senior vice president for Academic & Student Affairs.
This year, FIU Relay for Life surpassed its goal for 2019 and raised $111,795.34 for breakthrough cancer research. Organizers were joined by 68 teams and more than 1,000 registered participants consisting of students, faculty, staff, survivors and community members. Participants took turns walking round the relay track—the traffic loop in front of the Ryder Business Building—until midnight.
“My mom is a cancer survivor, so it’s a cause I’m personally connected to,” said Tatiana Mihaita, a junior majoring in theatre. “My favorite part of Relay is when all the survivors are together, and we walk around the lap together as a whole.”
Mihaita was joined by her mom, Cristina Batista, who has been cancer-free for 19 years. This was Batista’s first-time attending Relay for Life at FIU. As a survivor, Batista sees Relay as a new beginning, a chance to start all over with support.
“It’s a great cause,” she said. “You are not by yourself and you can see there are other people that go through different battles, but we are all here. We are not alone.”
In lively tents along the walking track, team members sold food and offered various fundraising activities throughout the night. In addition to making monetary contributions, a few participants also donated their hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths—a program which distributes free, real-hair wigs to women affected by cancer.
“My great-grandmother had breast cancer. I saw how much it impacted her, so I wanted to give back,” said Lilly Felipe, a freshman studying business management. “Since I have long hair, and I’ve never dyed it before, it can be donated to make wigs.”
Others shaved their heads in solidarity with cancer patients and survivors during the event’s popular, shave-a-thon.
Whether it’s to increase cancer awareness, to honor survivors or to promote health, FIU students have continuously proved their ongoing commitment toward a cancer-free world.
“I love the cause,” said, Jean Michael Queroi, a senior majoring in international business. Queroi has volunteered in Relay for Life for the past seven years and keeps coming back because as he says, “the cause is amazing!”
Thanks to contributions, like the one made by FIU’s Relay for Life, toward research and medical advances, the number of cancer survivors in the United States is expected to reach 20.3 million by 2026.