As prominent cancer survivors such as cyclist Lance Armstrong bring the battle against cancer into national consciousness, USC students are celebrating their own victory in the public fight against the disease.
USC students from the Health Sciences and University Park campuses raised more than double the money they had hoped for in their recent Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society-sponsored event that raises awareness about cancer. The group of students amassed nearly $42,000 for local cancer programs as well as cancer research.
The students came together as members of a national group called Colleges Against Cancer, which is affiliated with the American Cancer Society. Colleges and school groups have been organizing Relay for Life events for years, with about 4,000 such relays held each year in the United States and abroad. But the April 23-24 event was the first such event at USC.
USC student Laura Castillo, one of the event’s organizers and member of Colleges Against Cancer, was amazed at the event’s success. “It was all due to the complete generosity of the USC community, and even from some outside of ’SC,” she said. The students distributed flyers at USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as on the University Park Campus.
In the Relay for Life, students and other members of the community gathered at McCarthy Quad on the University Park Campus and walked or ran laps around the quad, relay-style, for 24 hours. In all, 28 teams participated in the USC event.
The event opened with a ceremony featuring Raymond Melrose, USC emeritus professor of dentistry, member of the American Cancer Society of California board of directors, and father of Brenden Melrose, president of the USC chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. A luminaria ceremony also included USC health promotion student Erin Toole, who told her story of cancer survivorship and of her goal of entering medical school.
“We also had two students, Matthew Lee and Jake Iverson, who stayed on the track for the entire time,” Castillo said.
Castillo noted that students who led the effort included event chair Preetom Bhattacharya, who has been involved with Colleges Against Cancer at USC since its inception in 2004 and who was recently diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer. Organizers also included Tracy Becerra, an American Cancer Society intern and occupational therapy student at the Health Sciences Campus, and student Stephanie Kiouses.
The nation’s first Relay for Life was held in 1985, when Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Washington state, wanted to raise funds for his local American Cancer Society chapter. An avid runner, Klatt spent 24 hours on a track at the University of Puget Sound. Throughout the event, Klatt’s friends pledged money to run or walk with him.
Klatt completed 83 miles on the track and raised $27,000. The feat inspired further relays, and today, about $305 million is raised nationwide in the events—$27 million in California alone.
For more information on the Relay for Life program, please visit www.cancer.org/relayonline.