Penn State Relay For Life Surpasses $1 Million In Total Fundraising
THON is the preeminent spring student-run cancer fundraising event, but Penn State Relay for Life is doing its part in the fight against the disease. The 24-hour relay walk, which takes place on the university’s outdoor track, raised an outstanding $103,743.34 this weekend, surpassing the million dollar mark overall.
It was an emotional, albeit successful, weekend for the organization, which lives by the motto that it’s fighting for more birthdays. That message rings true for Elizabeth Barron, a Penn State senior who was diagnosed with cancer three years ago.
“One of the things that totally upset and devastated me was that I was missing my very first THON,” she said. “Since I couldn’t physically be there, I wore my shirt out of the hospital the day after my surgery. During the next week, I received the best news of my life. All 36 lymph nodes taken out of my neck came black clean with no evidence of cancer. I felt like I was winning the battle against the hateful enemy.”
Barron attended her third Relay for Life as a cancer survivor this weekend. At her first Relay, she met Kaitlyn Sukovich, a fellow student and survivor. They have since become best friends through their time at Penn State.
“At the time, we walked the survivors lap together and saw each other throughout the weekend,” Barron said. “We ended up having class together last spring and I joined her Relay for Life team. Last year, we were lucky enough to add another survivor to our group: Colin Grube. These two have inspired me so much throughout the past few years and I’m so grateful to them for that.”
On a less bright note, Lynn and Butch Brewer discussed the death of their son, Troy, who lost a battle with cancer at 16 years old.
“Troy’s life was the typical all-American young boy, who loved to be outside and around people,” his mother said. “He spent his days riding bikes, playing football, baseball, paintball, video games. If there was a creek or a mud puddle, he was in it.”
That all changed when Brewer was diagnosed with cancer, fighting the disease for two years before passing away. Lynn Brewer feels that Troy’s memory lives on, sharing a story of a sign she believes came from her son.
“We were sitting out back of our house and were greeted by a yellow and black butterfly. It came so close to each of us, like right into our faces and fluttered around us and fluttered around our yard,” she said. “Every year since then, we always see black and yellow butterflies no matter where we go. We know that’s a sign from him because he loved the Steelers.”
Emotions ran high on Saturday night during the luminaria ceremony. The track is lined with paper bags, each bearing a message or name in honor of someone’s battle with cancer. As the sung goes down, candles within the bags are lit, illuminating a radiant circle around the track as all relayers take a lap, holding glow sticks to represent who they relay for.
Among the sad moments are times of celebration, like Penn State football head coach James Franklin’s visit to the track on Sunday afternoon just hours before the six-figure fundraising total was revealed. As the 2015 Penn State Relay for Life comes to an end, the organization begins fundraising for the next year, hoping to celebrate more birthdays and survivors in 2016.