Luminaria bags and messages of hope lined the track of the Kiewit Fitness Center (KFC) on Saturday evening as the Creighton community celebrated its 12th annual Relay for Life event.
The charity walk, hosted by Colleges Against Cancer, raises funds for the American Cancer Society and provides a communal space for survivors and their loved ones to move in solidarity against cancer.
“Relay for Life, in short, is about hope,” said Chris Lopez, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-president of Colleges Against Cancer. “[It’s] about honoring those who have lost the battle against cancer, as well as celebrating those who have [beaten or] are currently fighting this disease.”
This year, 668 participants and 19 teams raised over $33,000 for the American Cancer Society. According to Relay for Life’s website, these donations will help fund patient care programs and cancer research.
The event started at 4 p.m. on March 30 and ended at 2 a.m. on March 31. This year’s timing was different from past Relays at Creighton, which traditionally spanned from 7 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Lopez, this change was made to accommodate local participants and families. “We wanted to include as many people from the Greater Omaha Area, as well as to make a more convenient time for survivors and their families,” said Lopez.
Throughout the night, teams completed laps around the KFC’s track to symbolize the ongoing fight against cancer. Other activities included live band performances, a tug-of-war competition, a raffle and a toilet paper fashion show.
At 8 p.m., the lights in the KFC were dimmed for the luminaria ceremony. Participants placed glow sticks into the luminaria bags around the track, which were decorated with the names of loved ones affected by cancer.
“The luminaria ceremony is a remembrance of those who are currently fighting cancer, or in remembrance of those who lost to cancer,” said Taylor Nguyen, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the entertainment executive for Relay for Life.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the darkness symbolizes the fear a cancer diagnosis invokes in patients, while the luminaria lights signify to those affected by cancer that they are not alone.
“This journey means more than I can put into words,” said Nguyen. “I’ve met so many wonderful survivors, caregivers, and humans in general throughout these years. I've made some strong friendships through this whole experience.”
“Everybody has their own story about cancer,” said Tyler Steele, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Steele relayed for his mother, Lynette Vorthmann Steele, who was diagnosed with colon cancer during his freshman year. After going through six months of chemotherapy, Lynette’s health screenings came back clean until September 2018, when a few “spots” appeared in her stomach.
“[My mother] was told that she would have cancer for the rest of her life and would have to be treated for the rest of her life,” Tyler said. Despite her diagnosis, Lynette underwent three more months of treatment and an intensive endoscopic mucosal resection surgery, which removed lining from her stomach wall. As of March, she is cancer free.
“Knowing that others have gone through similar experiences is inspiring and hopeful,” said Tyler. “I hope that [other] students…know that we all have each other’s backs and we want the best for each other.”
Other Creighton students expressed gratitude for the supportive atmosphere and community spirit throughout the event.
Liz Stevinson, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she was struck by “people’s willingness to be vulnerable and come forward [to] tell their stories” during the event.
“Relay is about giving love and receiving the love of others,” she said. “That’s something I love to experience every year.”