Imagine this: It's 6:45 a.m.; Aerosmith's “Dream On” is blaring from the speakers set up at the front of the Bristol Gym. Approximately 100 people are walking, jogging and dancing their way around the perimeter of the gym and most of them have been there for almost 24 hours. They are all there for one reason — to support the fight against cancer. This was the scene at the 2008 Relay for Life on Saturday, April 5.
Beginning in 1995, the Relay for Life was designed by the American Cancer Society to bring together those who have been touched by cancer as well as to raise money for cancer research. The HWS event was co-chaired by Francesca Antonucci '10 and Brittany Flaherty '10. The students applied to chair the Relay for Life through the Career Services Office, after which they were put in contact with Jack Harris, professor of anthropology and sociology, so they could turn the project into an independent study.
Harris is an organizational sociologist with experience as a consultant in the area of business re-engineering for non-profit organizations. He provided guidance for Antonucci and Flaherty.
“They have been asked to be analytical and self-reflective. They have been wonderfully successful in their thoughtfulness and in the actual execution of the Relay for Life multi-month event, culminating in the actual relay,” he says.
Both Antonucci and Flaherty have lost grandparents to cancer. “These days it is rare to find someone who hasn't been touched by cancer,” said Antonucci.
Flaherty's life has been particularly affected by cancer. As a freshman in high school, Flaherty was diagnosed with Burkitt's Leukemia. After months of chemotherapy at the Children's Hospital in Boston, she has been cancer-free for five years.
“I honestly believe that it made me a stronger person, and I wanted to do something to give back to an organization that was partially responsible for saving my life,” she says.
Relay participants put together small teams with the goal of having at least one member from each team walking at all times. 277 people registered online for the event, though many more showed up.
In addition to walking, attendees contributed to the fight against cancer by donating hair to “Beautiful Lengths,” supported by Pantene Pro-V. A total of 23 females lined up to have eight or more inches of hair cut off, which will then be donated and used to make wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair to chemotherapy.
During the opening ceremony, Antonucci told the gathered group, “Everyone here is doing their part to make a difference.” Local cancer survivor Crystal O'Connor was invited to speak. Having been diagnosed with cancer at six years old, she is a 17-year survivor.
Throughout the night, student groups HIP-NOTIQ, 3 Miles Lost, the Hobartones, and Phoenix Players performed and contests were held such as a Chubby Bunny contest and the Roommate Game (similar to the Newlywed Game).
Shortly before the Relay ended at 7 a.m., the final amount of money raised by the event was revealed. The $35,000 goal set by Antonucci and Flaherty was exceed as more than $39,000 was raised.
In addition to organizing the Relay, Antonucci and Flaherty have founded Colleges Against Cancer, a club dedicated to increasing cancer awareness, prevention and advocacy, as part of their independent study. One upcoming event they have planned is selling sunscreen on the quad during a warm day. The group meets biweekly in the Geneva Room. With both Antonucci and Flaherty going abroad next year, they are looking for new co-chairs for Colleges Against Cancer, as well as students to organize the Relay for Life next year.
Applications are available in the Career Services Office. Interested individuals should contact Brandi Ferrara, Antonucci or Flaherty with questions.