Cancer relay promotes unity, awareness
Greek system takes strides to fight disease
For The State News
When Stefanie Ridenour took a lap around Demonstration Hall on Saturday night, it was a little different from the laps she took during the greek system's Relay For Life last year.
Then, it was more about hanging out with friends. Now, the cause hits a lot closer to home.
Ridenour, an MSU international relations junior, was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in December and took this semester off to undergo chemotherapy at home in Lapeer.
She returned to campus for the event Saturday as one of about 3,000 participants in the greek system's Relay For Life this year, a 12-hour event where team members took turns walking around a track to honor those who have fought, are fighting, or have been affected by cancer and to raise awareness in the community.
Ridenour has raised $1,600 for Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society's signature activity. It was the MSU greek system's fourth relay and, by Saturday, about $100,000 had been raised with another week to go before the April 7 deadline.
"It's such a great cause, it brings attention to something that touches so many people," Ridenour said.
Ridenour had participated in the greek system's Relay For Life with her sorority Gamma Phi Beta before she was diagnosed with cancer, but this time it had a new meaning.
"It's different when it affects you," she said.
Her battle with the disease has made her realize cancer can affect anyone, she said.
"I've been 100 percent healthy my whole life," Ridenour said. "But cancer doesn't discriminate."
But she considers herself lucky, she said. She has a great prognosis and hopes to be back at MSU in the fall.
Her cancer was caught in its earliest stage, and ovarian cancer is generally curable if detected and treated early.
Ridenour wants to raise awareness because ovarian cancer symptoms which can include abdominal swelling and pelvic pressure are easy to overlook, she said. Whether it's becoming more active with the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life or talking to sororities and women's groups, she said she wants to stay involved in the fight against cancer.
"That can save a life," she said.
The American Cancer Society has more than 4,200 Relay For Life events across the country every year. In 2004, 225 collegiate Relay For Life events raised a total of 7.5 million dollars. The money raised goes toward services for patients and community members as well as to scientists and volunteers for research, education, advocacy and other services.
According to Kate Follett, the American Cancer Society community development director for the Lansing area, there is currently more than $1 million in American Cancer Society research grants being used on MSU's campus. The American Cancer Society has spent more than $2.5 billion on cancer research, according to its Web site, www.cancer.org.
The Relay For Life event also kicked off the greek system's Greek Week. During the relay, teams made up of sororities and fraternities competed against each other in different activities, such as human pyramids, a burrito eating contest and, most popularly, the tug of war, with points awarded to winning teams.
Inside Demonstration Hall, what used to be an ice arena looked like a packed campsite, complete with tables and chairs, couches, empty bags of chips and people throwing footballs or playing cards when they weren't competing or walking the track.
Later in the evening, Follett used glow sticks for a ceremony that honored or remembered those who have been touched by cancer. About 100 white paper bag luminaries glowed in a corner of the hall, each with a different name of someone who has been affected written on it.
She said student organizers try to keep the relay event high-energy, but the ceremony is the time to think about why they're doing what they're doing.
"It's one day out of our lives to honor every day of having cancer," Follett said.
The participants took another time to reflect when everything came to a stand-still during a moment of silence.
"It's kind of cool, we're so energetic and so loud as a greek community," said Jessie McHugh, an MSU landscape architecture junior and Greek Week chairperson. "Everyone was silent. Everyone stood in their places."
But aside from remembrance and honoring lives affected, the relay is also about celebration.
"The relay is really the party," Follett said.
McHugh, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, said Relay For Life is the most important event in the greek calendar.
"It's the biggest thing we do as a whole greek community," McHugh said. "We're not normally all together."
Mackenzie Flynn, Greek Week Relay For Life chairperson, said she has been planning the event since September. The audiology and speech sciences senior and member of Kappa Delta sorority said it's both powerful and moving to see the greek system come together and accomplish so much for charity.
It's also easy to see how cancer has touched the greek community by the number of people willing to spend time and money on the event, Flynn said.
After she graduates, Flynn plans to continue working with the American Cancer Society.
"I'm hooked for life," she said.
To her, Relay For Life is different from many other charities.
"It's not just 'give me $20.' It's more than that," Flynn said. "It brings the community together."