The power of relay: Cancer survivors, students unite for Relay for Life fundraiser

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When DePaul senior Teresa Marx was 8 years old, her father was diagnosed with cancer.

“When I was younger, I was confused by cancer,” she said. “It was like this huge concept to me. I didn’t really understand what it meant.”

She also remembers thinking it a rarity, something that was happening only to her father. But as time has passed, she realizes that’s no longer the case.

“If you go into a classroom and you say, ‘How many of you are affected by cancer?’ – you know someone, you’ve had it, you’re a caregiver – everyone will raise their hand,” she said. “And to me, that’s so alarming.”

That’s why Teresa spent Friday night at Relay For Life, hosted by the DePaul chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC). She joined the organization at the beginning of her junior year and has done Relay ever since. And each time, her father, Joe, has flown out from their New Jersey home to join her.

Joe was diagnosed in July 2000 with testicular cancer, and his treatment lasted until October of that year. He feels fortunate because once upon a time, there was only a 50 percent survival rate for that form of the disease. Now, there’s a 98 percent cure rate, and he calls it one of the best success stories in cancer.

The treatment is rigorous, he said, but he knew the odds were in his favor.

“You know you’re going to have to go through a tough time, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Joe’s diagnosis taught Teresa several life lessons at a young age, one being the importance of optimism and humor. She remembers having a head-shaving party for her father when he lost his hair, and afterward, she drew a picture of him bald saying, “Help, I have no hair.”

Joe remembers that picture fondly and recalls hanging it up in his hospital room along with other paintings from his children. To him, it showed how an 8 year old was interpreting their family’s struggle, and the works of art gave him an immense amount of hope and joy.

“There wasn’t a better antidote to cancer than to have that stuff from my kids up in my room,” he said. “It was just a beautiful thing.”

Teresa joined CAC in part because cancer had such a major impact on her life, but she also does it for others. She said she’s blessed to still have Joe in her life and realizes that isn’t always true for others who have known loved ones with cancer. In fact, she said, two survivors who came to Relay last year have since passed away.

“It’s a very constant reminder of how real and serious cancer is,” she said.

Joe also appreciates events like Relay because it proves that cancer isn’t a hopeless situation.

“It’s about remembering and paying tribute, but it’s also about what each one of us can do to try to make a difference,” he said.

According to Emily Rosen, president of CAC at DePaul, 32 teams participated in Relay this year. Through online donations and on-site collections, the event made approximately $33,000 that will go to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Rosen was on the e-board last year as entertainment chair and became president this year. She joined CAC because like many others at Relay, she’s been personally affected by cancer and lost someone she loved because of it.

“It’s my way of giving back and fighting the fight,” she said.

Relay is CAC’s biggest event, and Rosen believes it’s a great way to promote cancer awareness and give back to the ACS. The event, held at the Ray, lasted 12 hours and included food, games and a DJ for entertainment. However, the biggest focus of the night is the walk around the track. For survivors and caregivers, this walk represents a victory, and Rosen said it allows everyone else to join the fight in their own way.

“You can walk for these 12 hours when these people have been fighting for 12 days to 12 years,” she said.

Going forward, Joe emphasized the importance of continued medical advancements for cancer treatment. However, he also believes society needs to focus on preventative measures as well. Smoking, diet and exercise play a big role in a person’s health, he said, and people need to work to ensure the environment is safe. This way, society not only can help people when they’re sick, but keep it from happening in the first place.

“Our zip code sometimes is more important than our genetic code,” he said.

Teresa also offered what she feels are “powerful weapons” against cancer.

“Love, education and awareness.”

Photos below by Maggie Gallagher and Arthur Ortiz.