Relay for Life returns in person, raises money for cancer research


The local members of the American Cancer Society brought the Relay for Life back to Matthews Arena March 25, 2022. The event raised over $150,000 for cancer research and support. Photo courtesy of Jessica Richards.

Amelia Ballingall, news correspondent

With cancer currently ranked as the second leading cause of death in the United States and research suffering delays and setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight against cancer is more important than ever. Each year, the American Cancer Society, or ACS, puts on its largest event, the Relay for Life, at over 2,000 locations around the world, raising money and awareness for cancer research, support and survival. 

On March 25, Northeastern University’s Relay for Life was held in-person for the first time since 2019. Although the Northeastern chapter of ACS on Campus was still able to raise money for the fight against cancer throughout the past two years, the return to an in-person event was a relief and a joy for many.

“It’s definitely been very scary planning this event because most students on campus now, unless they’re a fourth or fifth year, haven’t seen an in-person relay,” said Jessica Richards, a third-year combined environmental studies and political science major and the executive director of ACS on Campus. “They don’t know what relay is, so we’re really just excited that so much of the community has come out to be a part of such an important cause.” 

The 12-hour event brought together hundreds of students from across campus and raised over $150,000 in support of the American Cancer Society. The participants, a mix of survivors, caretakers and supporters, gathered in Matthews Arena Friday night with a true passion for their cause.

“More than anything, the change that I feel this year is just so much more excitement going into it because we haven’t had an in-person event since 2019,” said Maeve Smart, a fifth-year health sciences major and the mission and advocacy event lead for ACS on Campus. 

Relay for Life is a community event, relying on the donations of people both in and around the university to financially support the ACS’s mission. However, the heart of the event lies with the students. 

While the Relay for Life is backed by the American Cancer Society, the majority of the work going into the event is done by the members of ACS on Campus. The student members leading the event began preparation during summer 2021 and continued it throughout the fall and spring semesters. 

“The student leads have done a phenomenal job in fulfilling every task they could to make this such a phenomenal event,” said Sarah Bernhardt, a student engagement specialist in the Center for Student Involvement at Northeastern University.

The members of ACS on Campus recruited hundreds of donors, sponsors and speakers in the months preceding the Relay for Life. These participants banded together to create more than 60 student-led teams, which, together, contributed to fundraising efforts, allowing ACS on Campus to reach its $150,000 goal.

Fundraising began months before the Relay for Life, but the March 25 event marked a culmination of all of the hard work and effort that the students had put in.

“Just seeing all of the students in the middle of the track, I really got chills, because the pandemic has been tough and cancer patients need us more than ever so seeing students come out and raise so much money and support cancer patients means everything,” said Hilary Casillas, the director of development for the ACS of Massachusetts.

Each student that attends the relay has their own reason for marching. Some have lost family members to cancer, others are allies to the cause and a few are even survivors themselves. However, they are all bound together by the same mission: to raise money and awareness for cancer support, survival and research.

“It’s a really powerful time to come together and celebrate cancer survivors and to have a moment to honor people in our lives that we’ve lost from cancer,” Smart said, a survivor herself.

The Relay for Life began with an opening ceremony and a ‘survivor lap,’ in which cancer survivors walked a lap around the arena while all of the other participants cheered them on. Then, a night of celebration ensued, in which attendees were able to honor loved ones lost to cancer and show their support in the fight against the disease.

The Relay for Life unified the efforts of campus and community members to benefit the mission of the American Cancer Society. Through the commitments of the event participants, despite pandemic-induced obstacles leading up to the 2022 relay, the students of Northeastern University were able to pledge their financial and emotional support in the fight against cancer.  

“We’re really just looking to be bringing the community together and raising money to support the fight against cancer as well as to celebrate all of the hard work and fundraising that everyone’s done all year long,” Richards said. “We wouldn’t be able to achieve what we do without everybody’s support here.”