Katrina Valdes: Join Relay for Life, be a superhero

As members of one of the most politically active universities in the country, GW’s capacity to help goes far beyond political campaigns – we’re capable of so much more. Every day, we each make a difference to change something about the world we live in within our own interests, jobs, internships and academics.

But for one day out of the year, a group of students puts aside the politics, entrepreneurship and anything else that keeps us busy and comes together to make a difference in a much more important way – by helping to find a cure for cancer.

Whether we have had a personal experience with it or have watched someone we know battle it, this monster has somehow affected us all. This year will be the fourth year that Relay For Life at GW will make a stand against cancer. This life-changing event, put on by the American Cancer Society, has continually been one of the largest philanthropic events our University hosts.

Last spring, we surpassed our fundraising goal, and the more than 900 participants who came together were able to raise more than $67,000 by sending out fundraising e-mails, asking family and friends for donations and hosting fundraising events. But beyond the fundraising opportunities and the campus unity that the event offers us as a whole, the relay offers us each something on an individual level. Over the span of 12 hours, the event gives way for reflection, inspiration and compassion. The people crowding the room with us have lost parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and other relatives to this disease. They’ve experienced the same anguish from seeing a cancer-stricken patient go through chemotherapy, losing his or her hair and becoming fragile and defenseless.

The main focal point of the evening is the Luminaria Ceremony and Survivor Lap, where we honor those afflicted by cancer, and commend those who have stood by them as caregivers. Calling up group by group, we ask those to join the survivors leading the lap to follow them, as we take a few moments of silence to remember our loved ones. Participants shed tears and share memories, but most importantly, they offer support and love.

During the Survivor Lap, no one walks alone, both literally and figuratively. You see those upset walking hand in hand with a friend or two, but you also come to realize that those diagnosed, survived by or lost to cancer never walk alone either. It is filled with caregivers, friends and family, and it signifies how the participants are walking hand in hand with the cancer patients. It is made up of people just like you and me, people who can’t bear the thought of allowing this monster to conquer another life.

With this year’s theme of superheroes and superpowers, it’s clear to distinguish one from another. Just because they don’t wear capes doesn’t mean that cancer patients aren’t superheroes. Just because we don’t have crime-fighting abilities doesn’t mean we can’t help with our own special superpowers.

Katrina Valde is a junior majoring in communication and psychology, and is the Survivorship and Luminaria chair for GW Relay for Life.

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