Students raise more than $8,500 at cancer event

The University of Illinois Recreation Center was a flurry of activity Friday evening. Students throughout the facility were exercising to stay fit – running, swimming, playing volleyball and basketball, lifting weights. A group of nearly 75 students were walking in the second floor’s main gymnasium, doing so not only to maintain their own health, but to help those who may not be able to walk.

The third annual UIC Relay For Life was held from 5 p.m. to midnight to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Sponsored in part by the University of Illinois Cancer Center, the event raised $8,580, said Cancer Education Chairman and newly elected president of the Relay For Life Club Nathan Burg, a biological sciences major with a focus in molecular, cellular and organismal biology and minors in mathematics and physics.

Relay For Life began in May 1985 when Dr. Gordon Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Wash., wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society. An avid runner who enjoyed marathons, Klatt walked around the track at the University of Puget Sound’s Baker Stadium for 24 hours. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He walked nearly 83 miles and raised $27,000 for cancer research. Following the event, Klatt thought about how other people could participate in a similar event in their own community.

Today, more than 5,000 Relay For Life events take place in more than 20 countries, raising nearly $5 billion to date.

Relay For Life events begin with a Survivor/Caregiver Walk, which honors “their strength and courage with every step they take,” according to the American Cancer Society. “It doesn’t matter if you were diagnosed 10 days ago or 10 years ago, you can walk while everyone gathers together to cheer you on.”

Maxica Williams, a UI Cancer Center Patient Brigade member, told the crowd her story about how she has valiantly fought Stage 3 breast cancer so she can live to see her children, DePreist, DeNaysa, DeSera, and DeVon, graduate from high school and, she hopes, one day become a grandmother. With her movement limited due to health issues, DeNaysa, DeSera and DeVon took their mother’s place in leading the walk, holding a Relay For Life banner as they strode around the gymnasium. The UIC students joined them after the first lap was completed.

Prior to the opening walk, Ankur Saxena, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences and UI Cancer Center member, discussed his work with the formation of neurons in vertebrate embryos and why so few are created in adults. To answer these questions, Saxena’s lab combines high-resolution live imaging with genetic, molecular, and/or physical perturbation. His primary model organism used is the zebrafish, with his goal being to understand multicellular dynamics during stem cell migration and differentiation into neurons. To do so, he’s developed an experimental system that embraces rapid advances in imaging technologies while maintaining long-term developmental and regenerative fidelity.

During the Relay For Life event, teammates take turns – hence the term relay – walking the track or path to symbolize the ongoing fight against cancer. Games – potato sack races, Jenga, bra pong and volleyball, among others – were taking place for those UIC students who weren’t walking. As the evening progresses, luminaria are lit and placed along the path to “remember those we’ve lost, celebrate cancer survivors, and show everyone affected by cancer that we are the light in the darkness,” said the ACS.

As midnight approached, all those in attendance participated in a closing ceremony to recognize all of the event volunteers and “the fact that our fight will keep going until the world is free from cancer.”

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