By Sarah Jane Capper
Her bare feet pound the turf in a steady rhythm. At 4:15 a.m., Stephanie Kranz began circling the outside edge of the football field. It’s now 5:15 a.m., and she continues running at an even pace.
With each lap, she thinks of a different name – a name of someone she has never met, but one she’s read on one of the white bags that outline the perimeter of the field. Each paper-bag memorial represents someone who has passed away from cancer, is fighting cancer, or who has survived cancer.
Relay for Life stretched from Saturday to Sunday on April 10-11 and showed just how real cancer is to members of the Syracuse University community. More than 2,000 people ran, walked, danced, hopped or were carried around the edge of the field in the Carrier Dome during this year’s relay, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., people celebrated the lives of cancer survivors and remembered those who have died during their fights. The night also raised money for the American Cancer Society and educated participants about measures they could take to prevent cancer.
At 10 p.m. the bags people had purchased in commemoration and remembrance of victims and survivors were lit a by glow-stick lights inside them. Cancer survivors took the first lap, and then others joined. For about an hour, the center of the field remained empty as people walked around the track or sat crouched by their bags. They cried, linked arms with friends, or simply walked silently. Blank bags spelled out “Hope” and “Cure” in the stadium, a reminder of the event’s goals.
People began registering for Relay for Life teams in October, and by April 10, the teams had already raised more than $130,000 for the American Cancer Society. Fundraising continued at the relay, where teams set up on-site activities to bring in even more money. People paid to get manicures, learned to break dance, bought cookies from a bake sale, or took a piggyback ride around the track from a different team. These fundraisers brought the total amount raised to more than $150,000, the most ever for a Relay for Life at Syracuse University.
“All the money raised stays in the Central New York area,” said David Rosen, a student co-chair of the event and junior finance and information management technology major. The money will go towards cancer research, prevention efforts, and services for cancer patients such as transportation, he said.
Kranz, a freshman math major, chips away at her goal: 30 laps. Only a few people still circle the field with her. Most have already left for the night, or eat breakfast in the bleachers. Not Kranz. She keeps running, making full laps on the outside edge of the field. She’s seen what cancer can do. It killed her grandfather in 2006.
Like Kranz, many people tell stories of how cancer has touched someone they know. Half of men and one-third of women will battle some form of cancer in their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute. Each day, 4,000 new cases are diagnosed, according to the institute.
“We’re all struggling with this,” said Sarah DiGiulio, a student co-chair of the event and a senior magazine journalism and political science major. “We all know somebody who has been affected by cancer.”
Andrew Gemmell came to represent “Protect Your Pair,” an organization he founded about a year and a half ago. Two bouts with testicular cancer have taught the 24-year-old that he’s not indestructible. Now, he wants to make a difference by raising money, educating people, and reminding others that cancer can occur at any age.
“I want to show students that they’re not quite as invincible as they might think,” he said.
In one corner of the Dome, representatives from various groups, such as SUNY Upstate Medical University, Recreation Services, and Colleges for Change, manned tables with pamphlets, statistics, free giveaways, and a computer program that shows how you will look at age 75 if you keep tanning.
Justin Cole, a junior economics and policy studies major, has co-chaired the advocacy committee, which organizes the prevention area, for two years. Cole’s grandfather passed away in 2000 from prostate cancer the day after his 64th birthday. Now, Cole is willing to do whatever it takes to get people’s attention and convince them to take steps to prevent cancer in their own lives.
“Last year, I really wanted to actually bring in a diseased organ. A disgusting black lung,” said Cole. “That’s what I’m going for. I want to trigger that response from people where they do back up a little bit.”
He admits that this could have been going too far, but he reasons that people won’t pay attention to another brochure or doctor.
“Getting my two parents who have chain-smoked for 30 years to quit smoking might be harder than finding a cure for cancer,” he said. “I’ve seen what cancer can do to people. I have no choice but to keep trying.”
While putting together signs for the event, Cole combed through statistics about cancer in a report from the American Cancer Society and began to realize that good news does exist. He learned that the survival rate for prostate cancer has reached almost 99 percent.
“It’s not a losing battle,” Cole said. “It’s a winning battle, and we’re close.”
Kranz’s pace changes. She turns off the track, quickly stretches her calves, then returns to finish her lap. She then switched and ran her final few laps in the opposite direction, going against the other walkers and runners.
Finally, at 5:30 a.m., she jogs back to her campsite on the turf. Kranz places the soles of her feet together to stretch. They are a muddy brown color, almost black.
“The people on those bags fought,” Krantz says. “Now I have my life as a gift. I didn’t want to give up because they didn’t give up.”