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Relay for Life of UNC is fighting to end cancer at their annual event on Friday

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Attendees of Relay for Life 2018 of UNC event gather in front of a sign displaying the amount raised. Photo by Madison Buchanan.

Cancer survivors, caregivers, UNC students and community members will come together on Friday, April 5, for UNC’s annual Relay for Life event starting at 6 p.m. in Woollen Gym to remember and fight back against cancer. 

“We all come together as one unit and we fight for this one cause that we are all supportive of," said Olivia Park, one of three co-directors of Relay for Life of UNC. "We are all fighting to end cancer."

Attendees of this 15-hour event, which ends April 6 at 9 a.m., will stay up throughout the night with some participants walking laps the entire time to reflect that cancer never sleeps. 

“They have to do more than just stay up one night, they have to fight their entire lives through this," said Hannah Knotts, public relations chairperson of Relay for Life of UNC. "We are just doing one simple night, and we are doing it for them."

Relay for Life of UNC, an organization that fundraises throughout the year for the American Cancer Society, has been planning this event since September under the leadership of three co-directors, an executive board and 12 committees ranging from multimedia to corporate sponsorships. Madison Buchanan, the group’s American Cancer Society Representative, has also helped with the planning.

This year, the event has the theme “A Passport to Hope” to signify that cancer affects everyone around the world, and Woollen Gym will be decorated with flags from different nations. 

The first lap of the event is for survivors and caregivers, who will be cheered on by those in attendance. After these laps, everyone will join in and then take turns making laps, continuing throughout the event to represent the ongoing fight against cancer. 

At the event, there will be food, entertainment, games and fundraisers for everyone to enjoy — a photo booth, a Miss Relay Pageant, midnight Zumba and a sunrise walk on Hooker Field. 

While the entire event is full of great moments, one of the most meaningful for attendees is lighting luminaria to remember and honor those that have passed and celebrate cancer survivors. 

This is then followed by a silent lap for a moment of reflection, with the path only illuminated by the light from the luminaria, a symbol to show attendees that they are the light in the darkness. 

The event is also a celebratory culmination of Relay for Life of UNC’s fundraising efforts, which currently totals more than $56,000. Most funding came from two large initiatives: a 5K Color Run that raised over $11,000 and the Coaches vs. Cancer 3-Point Challenge that raised $16,121. 

The rest of their funds have been raised through smaller events, such as restaurant nights and personally asking people for donations. Gabe Gordon, chairperson of the Corporate Sponsorships and Event Donations Committee, has raised the most individually with over $4,600 by emailing friends and family and sharing his mother’s battle with cancer with others.

“People were just so willing and caring enough to donate in her name, so it's not like I did anything extravagant like going to reach out to businesses or trying to get big name donations,” Gordon said. “It was just friends and family who just remembered my mom and wanted to help out.” 

Fundraising will continue at the event, as they hope to reach their goal of raising $75,000 by the end of the event. 

The American Cancer Society uses these funds to help give cancer patients and their families resources they need, such as free rides to chemotherapy, free places to stay near hospitals and a live 24/7 helpline for answers and support.  

The Chapel Hill community directly benefits from the work of the American Cancer Society, as it currently funds 15 research grants at UNC Hospitals, totaling approximately $9.4 million, and many locals utilize their Road To Recovery program to get rides to cancer treatments, Buchanan said.

The amount Relay for Life of UNC raised ranked 32nd out of 194 other college branches of Relay for Life last year. With steady growth the past few years, the group is on track to surpass last year’s fundraising.

“We are doing this for a greater purpose. Yes, there are activities and food, but we are not doing it for that," Gordon said. "We are doing it to remember those who have fought and unfortunately passed from the disease, so throughout the night the sentiment is honor and dedication."

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