For Colleges Against Cancer President Sarah Cohen ’11, spring at Brandeis means the arrival of Relay For Life. In preparation for the March 26 event, Cohen, the event chair, and the other coordinators of Relay organized Paint the Campus Purple Week, a national initiative to increase awareness of Relay For Life.
Throughout the week, members of the Brandeis chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) tabled in Usdan as an “extra push for people to be aware that Relay is coming,” Cohen said. They passed out purple Mardi Gras beads, stickers and Kosher mints in purple wrappers while encouraging students to sign up and continue raising money that will eventually go to the American Cancer Society. Due to inclement weather the group was unable to stand on Rabb steps between classes and pass out treats, but Cohen said the week was still very successful. She credited its success to the “very dedicated people on the committee,” who she said are always willing to “spring into action and take it on themselves to help out.”
At the end of the week, more than 450 participants on 65 teams had raised almost $20,000. The ultimate goal is $100,000 from 1,000 participants by March 26, the day of Relay and the last chance to register. Last year, 800 participants on 90 teams raised $85,000.
Cohen became involved with Relay For Life during her first year at Brandeis. That year, women’s basketball coach Carol Simon and athletic trainer Niki Rybko organized the first Brandeis Relay, a 24-hour event in Gosman that would raise money for the American Cancer Society. Cohen’s friends encouraged her to go and, although she describes herself as “not an all-night kind of person,” she ended up staying until 4 a.m. “That was the beginning of the end,” she joked. “I haven’t been able to live without it since.”
The year that Relay was started at Brandeis, Katy Agule ’09 and Nadine Channaoui ’10 started the Brandeis chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, which is also associated with the American Cancer Society. There was always overlap between the Relay For Life committee and CAC because of their shared cause, Cohen said, but there was no official connection. Now, however, CAC is a chartered club and Relay For Life is their biggest event.
Following her first Relay, Cohen became the coordinator of Luminaria, a Relay tradition to remember individuals’ fights against cancer. During the ceremony, candles (or the more fire safety-conscious option of glow sticks) are put in paper bags, a Southwestern tradition of remembrance. Each bag represents someone who has fought cancer, whether they have survived, lost their fight or are still fighting.
“My involvement in the event as Luminaria co-chair allows me to make a difference, Ariel Glickman ’13 said. She has worked closely with Sarah Hirsch ’12 to plan the ceremony this year. “The Luminaria Ceremony reaches out to all who have been touched by cancer to honor, celebrate and remember loved ones who have fallen victim to this disease,” she said.
“The ceremony itself is always beautiful, seeing how people come together in support of one another is very moving,” Hirsch said.
As Luminaria chairs, they also put together a slide-show of pictures and names of people who have battled cancer, which Cohen described as the most emotionally difficult part of the job. “The ceremony gives people the opportunity to grieve. It’s also important to find time to reflect on those who have lived, and remember that we will continue to fight,” she said.
“Relay is THE way to make a difference. It’s a fun and exciting way to raise money for an honorable cause,” Jess Granville ’12 said. Granville is one of the publicity chairs for Relay this year and has been involved with Relay throughout her time at Brandeis. This year’s Relay is carnival-themed, and will include student performances and activities provided by participating teams.
In a March 2009 column in The Hoot, Channaoui told the story of losing her friend Brian to cancer and explained how her experience had pushed her to become involved in Relay For Life. “I Relay because of Brian, and because I know that my story is not unique,” she wrote. “There are millions of people—young and old—diagnosed with cancer, which in turn means that there are millions more mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, partners, grandchildren and friends who are enduring challenges similar to my own.”