Northeastern students share how cancer has affected them

11/06/15 – BOSTON, MA. – Students promote Relay For Life on Centennial Common on Oct. 6, 2015. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Virtually everyone is affected by cancer in some way. It’s the second most common cause of death in the U.S., and more than 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2016.

Armed with these startling statistics, it’s easy to see why thou­sands of North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff will flock to Matthews Arena on Friday, March 18, to raise money for the Amer­ican Cancer Society.

Northeastern’s student-​​run Relay For Life com­mittee is orga­nizing the event, an overnight fundraising walk in which teams of people will take turns trekking around the tem­po­rary track.

Meryl Stav, MS’17, will be dedicating a lap to her dad, who died in 2013 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Marc Thomas, E’16, will be walking in honor of his grandfather, who died from lung cancer. And Aishwarya Bhadouria, S’19, will be there in support of her high school friend, who died from osteosarcoma.

“It’s always difficult to name one person I walk for, because I believe that I’m walking for everyone who’s been touched by cancer,” added Payton Schenck, SSH’18. “I’m walking to show that I’m not powerless to a disease that has taken so much from so many and that I’m doing all I can to help fight back.”

More than 5,000 Relay For Life events take place each year, con­vening sur­vivors and advo­cates in com­mu­ni­ties and on college cam­puses in more than 20 coun­tries. While each is unique, all of them fea­ture an opening sur­vivor lap; a lumi­naria cer­e­mony to remember those who have died; and a fight back pledge to spread aware­ness of cancer research, treat­ments, and prevention.


It’s incredible to see 3,000 people united behind the same cause.”
— Marc Thomas, E’16

Some 3,00 par­tic­i­pants have already signed up for the Matthews Arena walk, raising more than $243,000 to fight cancer. The fundraising goal is $325,000, according to committee co-chair Megan Cavanaugh, S’16, and donations will be accepted until mid-August. Since its incep­tion in 2010, Northeastern’s Relay com­mittee has raised more than $1.3 mil­lion.

“I am proud of the amount of money we have raised since 2010, but I am more proud of the community spirit and camaraderie we have fostered,” said Hannah Flath, the committee’s publicity support chair. “The support we have received over the past six years is largely due to the greater Boston community, from other colleges and universities in the area to thousands of driven Northeastern students, faculty, and staff.”


Students, faculty, and staff honor cancer victims and survivors at Northeastern’s 2015 Relay for Life event. Photo courtesy of Northeastern’s Relay for Life committee.

Flath, SSH’18, is one of many Northeastern students whose commitment to Relay For Life transcends time and place. She participated in her first relay in her hometown of Pomfret, Connecticut, when she was just 5 years old, and has taken part in more than 20 events since then, raising over $15,000.

On Friday, she will be walking in honor of her grandfather, who died in 2013 after a long battle with lung cancer. “Although I can’t help my grandfather, I can help others fight their battles against cancer by participating in Relay For Life,” she explained. “In this way, I feel like I am still fighting for him even though he is gone.”

Thomas’ first relay was about 15 years ago, when he walked in support of his mother’s friend with breast cancer. For the past several years, the student engineer has helped build the sound system for the annual relay in his hometown of Mansfield, Massachusetts.

To him, the relay is a one-of-a-kind event, a spectacle of hope, courage, and perseverance. “It’s incredible to see 3,000 people united behind the same cause,” he said.