Relay For Life

Relay for Life Walks Laps for Hope

•  “I hate cancer” WPI senior Rachel J. Mollard says. “Who doesn’t?”

April 10, 2014
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Like so many of her classmates, she has seen up close the devastation the disease can create. Her grandmother fought off lymphoma four times, including before Mollard was born and during her childhood.

Despite her cancer battles and a knee replacement, Mollard’s grandmother “doesn’t let you help her,” she says. “She’s an inspiration.”

That inspiration led Mollard, who is 21 and hails from Glenville, N.Y., to serve as president of the WPI chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, a post she has held since September 2011.

Colleges Against Cancer

Colleges Against Cancer is a national collaboration of college students, faculty, and staff dedicated to eliminating cancer by working to implement the programs and mission of the American Cancer Society.

The organization sponsors a number of events throughout the year, each aimed at raising awareness of cancer-related issues while creating a relaxed, fun environment.

These include a dodgeball event that places the spotlight on prostate and testicular cancer. When the warmer weather comes, the Slip’N Slide comes out as a chance for students to have some summer-like fun while learning about skin cancer. And of course, sunscreen is available and must be applied before the fun can begin.

Raising Awareness

Then there is the breast cancer awareness program, with male students donning bras to underscore the importance of awareness and support. “It’s done in a respectful way, but we want to grab people’s attention,” she says.

The highlight of the year is also the biggest event, not only for Colleges Against Cancer but at the university overall. More than 1,000 classmates have spent some or all of 15 hours at Harrington Auditorium for Relay for Life.

Participants honor those lost to cancer, listen to the inspiring stories of survivors and walk to raise money for support services for cancer patients and their loved ones.

“It’s hands-down the biggest event we have at WPI,” she says. “That says something about WPI and the student body. The biggest event isn’t a concert, it isn’t a sporting event. I think that speaks to the kind of people we have at WPI. It makes me proud to be a WPI student.”

Laps for Hope

This year’s event takes place April 12–13. The relay is divided into three laps with varying themes.

The first lap celebrates survivors, who walk as those attending cheer.

The second, more somber lap honors those who have lost their battles with cancer. Glow sticks are distributed and lit by those who have known someone affected by cancer. “Just about every glow stick in the room lights up,” she says, creating a visually stirring moment.

“It’s very moving,” she says. “People want to fight back against cancer. We all have that common ground. We all have ‘that story’ we share.”

Fighting back is the theme of the third lap. A speaker usually delivers a motivational talk about the power of fighting back again the disease and offers suggestions on how students can help by taking steps such as advocating for cancer research.

“It’s a very powerful event,” she said. “It’s an amazing night.”

But it’s also an event she hopes one day will no longer be needed. She eagerly awaits the day when cancer is cured and hopes she will live to see it.

The only thing that could make that historic day even more special would be having the cure come from the mind and talent of a fellow WPI grad.

And with the talent and determination she sees in her classmates, that could happen, she says. “That would be awesome,” she says.

BY SANDY QUADROS BOWLES, PHOTOS BY LOUIE DESPRES