Fighting for a World Without Cancer

The Spectrum

The National Cancer Institute estimates in this year alone over 1.6 million people will hear the words: "you have cancer." It is estimated that 577,190 will lose the battle.

Unless somebody finds a cure.

Every day organizations like the American Cancer Society work toward raising enough money to fund research so that a cure can be found. On Friday, UB participated in the fight against cancer by hosting the Relay for Life in Alumni Arena. One hundred and ten teams participated - both students and community members alike.

One member from each team walked around the track from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. to raise money for awareness.

All of the money raised prior to and during the walk goes to the American Cancer Society. Participants are asked to fundraise prior to the event, but each team is also required to host an activity at the actual relay to bring in additional funds. This year, the activities ranged from selling coffee and baked goods to braiding hair and guitar concerts.

The first Relay for Life was held in 1986, organized by Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, and the "mother of relay" and member of the Relay Hall of Fame, Pat Flynn. Nineteen teams participated and $33,000 was raised.

Since then, Relay for Life has grown exponentially and now takes place all across the country in communities and college campuses. The goal hasn't changed: commemorate those who have been lost, celebrate those who have won their battle, and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Mark Bucsek, a first-year medical student, participated in three relays prior to this one. Originally, he participated because his group of friends created a team, but after losing his father to lung cancer in July 2010 only seven weeks after diagnosis, the event took on a much deeper meaning.

Bucsek is a member of the Oncology Interest Group, a group of students interested in "making a positive difference in the lives of patients suffering from cancer," according to their Relay for Life team page.

Their initial goal was to raise $3,000 before the event - they hit that quickly. Bucsek raised $1,560 for the cause and the team almost doubled its goal, raising over $5,000.

Buscek is currently in the M.D. Ph.D. program, which offers a medical degree along with a Ph.D. in research.

The loss of his father has greatly impacted his goals for the future.

"I started college and I wanted to be a doctor, I just didn't know what kind," Buscek said. "But once he got sick, I felt like I had to do research and try to stop this. I really want to make an impact on cancer. I know that millions of people say that, but I feel like having both degrees and the research and medical knowledge will give me the best chance that I'll have of making a positive movement. It's going to be a long time, but I promised my dad that this is what I was going to do."

Buscek is not the only member of the Oncology Interest team to have lost a loved one to cancer. Zachary Puca, also a first-year medical student and founder of the interest group, lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 5 years old.

This is his first year participating in the Relay, but in 2008 he participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, a 40-mile walk that takes place across the country. He has raised approximately $1,200 for the relay.

"In medical school you learn every organ system," Puca said. "But every single course has at least two lectures on cancer, because you can get cancer in anything, whether it be blood, vascular, respiratory, etc. It seems like it's really omnipresent in the curriculum, so it's good to see that we can create a group and make it more omnipresent within our community and raise awareness about finding a cure."

It is not only the medical school students who are getting involved. Mallorey Himmel is a freshman pre-pharmacy major and was team captain for the Leadership House team, UB the Cure. Her first relay was in middle school and this will be her fourth. Himmel's connection to the cause is her grandmother, a survivor of breast cancer - twice.

Himmel is motivated to make a change and has been working hard to keep her team energized and organized through the entire planning process. Still, there have been a couple of difficulties.

"The hardest part, especially being a freshman, is that we don't have the same resources as other people might," Himmel said. "We don't have cars. Some teams can go to the store and purchase water to sell at the event, whereas we don't have any coolers, we would have to buy ice, and that's a lot of money for any college student. It's been hard to feel like we're making a difference because you feel so small compared to the whole relay event."

Himmel's favorite part of the event is the "Luminaria Lap." The lights dim as candles that line the arena illuminate the track and everyone at the event takes a silent lap. It is a time to recognize the difficulties and the struggles that those with cancer face on a daily basis.

There is also a survivor walk. Survivors have an opportunity to walk the track celebrating the battles that they have won. The rest of the participants follow closely behind to demonstrate their support for the survivors and their dedication to find a cure.

This year UB also offered theme laps. Since the 12-hour constant walking around the track can get tedious, each half-hour there was a theme for the lap. There was a toga lap, a Disney lap, a Mardi Gras lap, a tie-dye lap, and many more. These themes break up the time in a fun way and help participants stay motivated and excited.

There were also performances from the break-dance club, the Glee club, the Impulse dance group, and the Buffalo Chips.

UB set its goal very high and wanted to raise at least $100,000. According to Bryanna Marotta, a sophomore health and human services major and the survivor and caregiver chairman, UB had raised approximately $85,000 as of Saturday night.

In order to meet the goal, there will be a Dining Out for Relay event at Buffalo Wild Wings this Monday, April 23. Students who want to help the cause can go to Wild Wings for lunch or dinner - simply mention the Relay for Life, and 10 percent of each check will be donated back to the UB Relay. UB is also offering a text campaign so any student can text the words RELAY UBUFF to 41518, and $5 will be donated.