Bringing the battle against cancer to UB

Students, faculty discuss their involvement with Relay for Life

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The Spectrum

Her grandfather never stopped fighting, so why should she?

Since the moment last year's Relay for Life event concluded on April 12, 2013, Megan Rosen, a senior biological science major, has been planning this year's event. Rosen hopes this year's Relay, scheduled for April 11, raises about $90,000.

Approximately 50 students serve on the Relay committee and work daily to fundraise and plan the all-night event. The committee expects 1,200 relay participants to attend the event at Alumni Arena this year to fight against cancer.

Rosen believes it's important the UB community unites to fight cancer. The disease can't be fought alone and it's not just one person that's affected by the statement, "you have cancer." The whole circle of loved ones surrounding the person is affected.

Rosen's personal experience with cancer drives her passion to never give up her fight.

"My grandfather was a man of many outstanding qualities, but the quality I value the most was his determination," Rosen said. "When prostate cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer took over his life, my grandfather never gave up."

Rosen said even when Seymour, her "beloved grandfather," was placed in hospice care, he never showed signs of weakness to his children or his grandchildren. The strength he had pushes her forward.

Rosen remembers feeling helpless seeing Seymour lay in the hospital bed. Even though she was only 10 years old, her parents were honest with her, she said. They allowed her to visit her grandfather after school and on the weekends. She valued this time with him.

Seymour always encouraged Rosen's ambitions to become a veterinarian. The two spent hours at the pond feeding loafs of bread to ducks and at the North Shore Animal League playing with puppies and kittens up for adoption. It's moments like these Rosen began to miss as her grandfather's sickness progressed.

When his condition worsened, Rosen's parents sent her and her two sisters to a friend's house. She remembers praying to God before she went to bed; she was not ready for her grandfather to leave her but "even God couldn't kick the cancer away," she said.

Seymour fought for his life every day like it was his last, Rosen said. He spent three months in the hospital and on Nov. 22, 2002, the battle ended.

Cancer won.

At age of 17, Rosen heard about the American Cancer Society and knew right away she wanted to get involved. During her sophomore year, she was the fundraising chair, sponsorship chair and online chair of Relay for Life at UB.

This year marks Rosen's fifth involvement with Relay for Life in honor of her grandfather.

At first, Rosen's father, Richard, was apprehensive about her involvement with Relay. He wanted her to concentrate on her studies and not on extracurricular activities. But he said over the past four years, Rosen has become an "expert in time management."

"Megan can definitely handle the pressure from her classes and studies as well as take on a project such as Relay for Life," Richard said. "There are many excellent organizations out there to become associated with and Relay for Life is one of them."

Richard knows how important the fight is for Rosen, as well as the rest of his family. He said his father battled cancer on five different occasions before losing his battle and his mother is a breast cancer survivor.

"[My father's] will to live, his will to enjoy life and his will to enjoy his family kept him going, even though his body was failing," Richard said. "Megan saw this and it has had a super human impact on her."

The event is especially important to Rosen, because unlike many other fundraisers for cancer research, Relay for Life celebrates individuals who have battled against the hardships - family, friends and survivors - while also remembering those who have been taken too soon, Rosen said.

Julie Smith, UB's Relay chapter adviser, acknowledged Rosen's participation.

"Megan has many great ideas and is very good at expressing why it is important to Relay," she said.

Smith has her own inspiration behind her involvement with Relay for Life. Her mother succumbed to renal cancer 10 years ago.

"I relay for her," Smith said. "My skill set is not that of a researcher to find a cure, but I can fundraise, which in turn helps researchers to find a cure."

She also knows her fundraising goes to services at the American Cancer Society. From "Road to Recovery," "Look Good...Feel Better" and "Hope Lodge," she knows money raised towards these programs helps cancer patients.

Each year, the relay committee sets a fundraising goal. This year it's $70,000.

Smith oversees a group of approximately 45 students who work on all aspects of the event. From educating their peers, to fundraising, team development, team recruitment, marketing, Luminaria, entertainment and ceremonies - these committees cover all aspects necessary for Relay for Life to succeed.

The event takes approximately one year to plan, she said. This year's theme will be Super Heroes.

Rosen has already raised $880 for this year's event and she expects to fundraise even more. Smith hopes the UB community gathers as a whole and exceeds the $70,000 goal.

"I can still feel how I felt when my mom told me she had cancer," Smith said. "[I still feel] the utter helplessness through that two-week period of hearing the words and the roller coaster ride of figuring out what to do next and to burying her."

Smith's goal is to find a way to alleviate that feeling for anyone else. She said she took the helplessness she felt to inspire hope that there is a way to "end this terrible disease."

She finds rejuvenation in students like Rosen who put so much time and effort into planning the event.

She said the amount of passion these students display, combined with any amount of money they are able to fundraise, will make a difference. Richard also said seeing the younger generation volunteering more and more for events like Relay for Life is heartwarming.

This may be Rosen's last year planning a Relay for Life at UB, but she knows her fight will never end. She said her grandfather would be extremely proud to know she will be attending Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in September.

He inspired her to follow her dreams and to keep fighting against cancer.