The gym was glowing with luminaria bags. More than $1,000 people walked around them.
Students, survivors of cancer and their family members packed McGonigle Hall late Friday night to try to help put an end to cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, an overnight fundraising walk, which ran from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., had 76 registered teams comprised of more than 1,200 people, and raised more than $45,000.
All survivors in attendance were called to the balcony for the opening walk. Applause filled the gym as Mariah Carey’s “Hero” rang from the speakers. All others began walking shortly after.
Stands were set up along the balcony and the floor of the basketball court to raffle off items, from coffee makers to signed comic books to Temple paintings. The event featured a live DJ, performances from a cappella groups and Temple Tap along with a Mr. Relay contest. In the middle of the basketball court, attendees gathered to play board games or pass a football or soccer ball.
Luminaria bags were set around the perimeter of the back gym. Each bag was lit to honor or commemorate someone who has fought or is fighting cancer. Those who took part in the “Luminaria Lap” walked in complete silence around the gym.
Elly Perlowitz, a sophomore journalism major and a co-event chair, oversaw event staff positions and did a majority of the planning.
Relays are special to Perlowitz – she said she wouldn’t apply to a university that didn’t have one. She’s been walking in them since she was about 10 years old.
“In high school, I was the ‘relay girl,’ and I wasn’t ready to shed that,” Elly Perlowitz said.
Perlowitz’s uncle died from cancer. Her mother, Holly Perlowitz, was also diagnosed with the disease.
Holly Perlowitz has been participating in fundraising relays since 1995, before she was diagnosed with breast cancer on New Year’s Eve in 2006. After a surgery to remove the tumor, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 35 sessions of radiation, she was deemed cancer free in 2008.
She said she believes her positive attitude and healthy diet allowed her body to tolerate the treatments well.
“I had bad days, but they didn’t keep me down,” Holly Perlowitz said. “I didn’t want my kids to get scared.”
Relay for Life is the walk she said she commits to and identifies with the most. She likes to try to meet every survivor at the event, and she said she views it as a type of sorority.
“It’s not one you want to join, but when you’re in it, you have to support each other,” she said.
Holly Perlowitz was overwhelmed by the number of Temple students who came to support the cause. “They could be out drinking or doing something else,” she said.
Kate Hetzel is part of team K-Strong, which raised just below $4,500. K-Strong raised the second highest amount for the event. Hetzel has been fighting a battle with kidney cancer since she was diagnosed in 2011. Her team was able to raise most of the money through word of mouth, social media and friends, family and coworkers.
The soon-to-be bride is currently in the middle of chemotherapy sessions.
“It’s important to take it one day at a time,” Hetzel said. “You have to stay positive.”
Dr. Curtis Miyamoto has been in oncology – the branch of medicine that deals specifically with tumors – for 24 years. He’s a professor and the chair of the department of radiation oncology at Temple University Hospital. Miyamoto said he found out about the event by accident.
“[This current generation of] college students is more aware than any other generation, because [they] know the causes of cancer and ways to prevent it,” Miyamoto said.
Events like Relay for Life and cancer survivors are “inspirations to all those who fight cancer every day,” he added.
Elly Perlowitz said she believes that “everyone’s story need to be heard, because what Relay has done for these people is incredible.”
“Relay has this mantra: ‘Cancer never sleeps, so neither will we,’” Elly Perlowitz said. “That’s why we walk all night.”
Jane Babian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.