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What We Learned from Relay for Life 2015

This past weekend, UCLA held yet another successful Relay for Life. For those of you who may not be familiar, Relay for Life is a 24-hour event in which teams of participants relay continuously around an area (in our case, the track at Drake Stadium) to come to together against cancer and to spread awareness of the disease. Each team works to fundraise a goal amount beforehand and even during the event, and all of the proceeds go towards cancer research and the American Cancer Society. The 24 hours were also packed with games and entertainment, so there was really never a dull moment. Participating in my first-ever Relay made me realize just how symbolic and educational this event really was.

Cancer does not discriminate. 

This powerful phrase was repeated multiple times throughout Relay. Anybody can get cancer, regardless of race, sex or any other defining characteristics. Furthermore, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re predisposed or not. Many people develop cancer based on lifestyle choices rather than a genetic predisposition – both can be factors. During the closing ceremony, one of the education chairs from Colleges Against Cancer held an exercise in which she asked members of the audience to stand up if they did certain things regularly (such as smoking or using sunscreen) to demonstrate the ways in which our lifestyle choices could increase or decrease our likelihood of getting cancer.

Sometimes when one person has cancer, it can feel like the whole family has cancer. 

One of the speakers during the Luminaria portion of Relay said this during her speech, and these words really stuck with me. This isn’t to downplay the brutality of having cancer for the patient or even to say that his or her family is experiencing the same pain. Instead, this speaker was implying that the families of cancer patients also feel the aftershocks of this pain. The family members (and friends too) that stand by a loved one battling cancer are known among the Relay community as “caregivers.” Caregivers are the ones who drive their patient to their countless doctors’ appointments, accompany them through the difficult experience of chemotherapy and ultimately provide a shoulder to cry on in times of sadness.

You can greatly diminish your risk for cancer by choosing a healthy lifestyle.

Believe it or not, cancer is in many ways a preventable illness. Certain habits like smoking cigarettes (also hookah or electronic cigarettes), using tanning beds and drinking above a normal limit of one standard drink per day can increase your risk for different forms of cancer including lung cancer, skin cancer and mouth cancer. Conversely, healthy habits such as daily exercise and maintaining a healthy diet high in antioxidants have been proven to decrease your risk for the disease. One of the main focuses at Relay was to illustrate this idea through signs lining the track, posters at the different booths and various speeches.

As much as Relay for Life was a fun and packed 24 hours, it was also a time for reflection on just how ruthless cancer can be. It was a time to remember those lost to cancer, to honor the survivors and current fighters and to applaud the people who stood by and continue to stand by their sides. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to come together as a community towards one common goal: celebrating more birthdays.

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