Brooke Wildes ‘20 welcomed the Fairfield community to the first ever virtual Fairfield University Relay for Life on April 17, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. 

The event opened with an emotional poetry performance by Kianti Miles called “Cancer Slam Poem,” followed by a prayer led by eucharistic minister Pat Cole ‘20.

The virtual Relay for Life hosted several events, including a yoga class, Zumba, a TikTok dance and donation challenge, a bingo fundraiser and a luminary ceremony, running from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. over Instagram and Facebook live. Fairfield’s Relay for Life also created a Spotify playlist, called “FFLD U Virtual Relay,” which can be accessed here. Fundraising challenges were held throughout the day, including a $48 in 48 Minutes challenge, in which participants were encouraged to raise $48 for the American Cancer Society in just 48 minutes. Participants that achieved this goal were entered into a raffle to receive Fairfield University Relay for Life swag to be mailed to their home address.

The event also included a speech by cancer survivor Gabriella St. Pierre ‘20. She is a current nursing major and has attended Relay for Life since her middle school days. St. Pierre survived myxopapillary ependymoma which causes tumors to form on the spinal cord that can spread to the brain. She endured surgeries, countless hours of physical and occupational therapy, radiation therapy on her spine and brain and chemotherapy. Through attending Relay for Life, St. Pierre began to advocate for cancer patients and fundraising, especially for those with childhood cancer.

“I realized the significance of what I had gone through and the power of me sharing my story with others,” St. Pierre said. “By me sharing my story, I could help some other little kid that’s feeling the same way… to let people know that they’re not alone.”

“[Relay] brings together the best in people in this trying time. The love, support, and solidarity that I’ve seen from everyone around the world the past couple weeks is incredible and I think that’s what Relay is all about,” she said. “We need that message more than ever.”

Fairfield University’s American Cancer Society partner is Kelsey McGettigan ‘14, a community development manager at the American Cancer Society. In December of 2010, McGettigan received the news that her mother had stage two triple negative breast cancer. Upon this diagnosis, McGettigan joined Campion Hall’s Relay for Life team and her life changed forever.

“[I] was introduced to this wonderful group of people who understood what I was feeling and going through; after that I was hooked and knew I wanted to continue to give back and be a part of this group,” she said. 

Since her first Relay in 2011, McGettigan has continued her involvement with the American Cancer Society. In 2012, McGettigan’s mother was able to attend Fairfield’s Relay along with her.

“She is now a 10 year survivor and I love that Fairfield University introduced me to this community that I now get to serve as an ACS staff member,” McGettigan said.

The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 and is the largest private, non-profit funder of cancer research in the United States. Working alongside Relay for Life, Fairfield University has raised over $500,000 towards cancer research over the past ten years.

The virtual Relay for Life provides a positive light for all while bringing in much-needed donations for a worthy cause.

“We hope to shed positivity throughout our community in such a difficult time for all,” said McGettigan. “The event leadership team is such a thoughtful and kind group of students, who really put time into when would be best to hold this event to not be insensitive to what is going on around us, and make the engagement of all and make the events tailored more to what would be beneficial right now- yoga and Zumba to help move your body, bingo and Tik Tok dance or donate to allow some fun and, of course, the beautiful luminaria tribute ceremony. Even though we can’t be together, we want to show up for our community and support from afar.”

Despite cancer’s devastating effects, Fairfield University’s Relay for Life shows us what we see in the poem, “What Cancer Cannot Do,” is true,“cancer cannot conquer the spirit.”

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