Relay for Life: Walking for the cure

Student leaders use personal experiences as motivation to organize campus-wide Relay event

Courage comes in all shapes, sizes and stories. For Waynesburg University’s Relay for Life student leaders, that courage stems from unique stories and struggles.

Brittnay Faust, senior early childhood special education major, has been participating in Relay for Life since her freshman year. By her sophomore year, Faust was selected as team captain for the track and cross-country team, maintaining that position all through her junior and senior years.

Faust not only leads her team, but also stands as the co-president of Colleges Against Cancer, the organization that runs the campus’ Relay for Life events.

The track and cross-country team chose to represent brain cancer for the second year in a row as a way for the team to honor the passing of Rebecca and Angela Marchetti’s father, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

As for Faust, her motivations fall much closer to home, as multiple members of her family have lost their lives to some form of cancer.

“Cancer is something that has always touched my family,” said Faust. “Before I was even born, my grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer. When I was five years old, I lost an aunt to breast cancer. Most recently, my great uncle has been diagnosed with lung cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.”

The biggest push came from Faust’s grandfather.

“In 2006, my grandfather was diagnosed with kidney cancer,” said Faust. “He got very involved with Relay for Life, and we were just little kids so we just went along. Then he was cured, and then in 2011, it came back as bone cancer. Then in April 2012, he passed away. [Relay for Life] just became a big thing in my family. We honor [my grandfather]. We have pins with his picture on them. We keep the tradition alive.”

Though she has experienced numerous losses from cancer, Faust has persevered and, she says, even grown stronger because of it.

“It puts life into perspective,” Faust said. “While my grandfather was battling cancer, my family had these little keychains that read ‘one day at a time.’ It kind of became our family motto, and I still live by it to this day.”

Junior human services major Alicia Smail jumped into her second year by participating in Relay for Life as team captain of the Human Services Sociology Club.

Smail’s group chose to represent colon cancer in honor of a team member’s close friend who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015 and underwent surgery later that year. Much to the dismay of friends and family, the cancer returned in 2017, segwaying into another round of treatment.

“I do have some personal connections, too,” Smail said about her passion for participation. “A friend of mine from high school, his mom passed away our senior year. We were all really close, so it was really hard for me to watch him and his family struggle with that. My pastor’s wife actually passed away from cancer a few years ago, and my uncle has been in and out of chemo for the last couple of years.”

Despite the hardships, Smail still finds joy and excitement while participating for the event.

“It’s an awesome thing for everyone to come together and support a cause,” Smail said. “Everyone has different people that they’re advocating for, so it’s super cool to see everybody come together and support the ones we really care about, and give them a voice when they might not have one.”

No matter how great the stress becomes, Smail knows what they’re doing is worth every moment.

“I love to just look back and see all of the tables,” said Smail. “To see all of the groups and organizations, to see all of the people, to see people from the community come and to see people like Jan Teagarden walk as survivors in the beginning is such an inspiration for them and for me to know that there is hope throughout this struggle.”

Sophomore accounting major Heidi Dziak was chosen to lead the Lamplighters Touring Choir team, a welcoming challenge, as this is only her first year participating. Her inspiration comes from a woman named Sue from Dziak’s hometown church.

“She’s a sweet lady, always very happy, very upbeat and always makes everyone smile,” said Dziak. “But then I found out that her son has cancer, and he’s been battling that for a long time, and she says it’s just really rough but keeps going, keeps God right there beside her.”

No one in Dziak’s family or close friends had been diagnosed before her involvement, so the entire experience proved life altering.

“I didn’t really realize how many people’s lives are affected by cancer until I started doing this,” said Dziak. “Yeah, I knew a good amount were affected, but I didn’t really realize how much money they need in order to be treated for certain things. I also didn’t put into consideration families who are from West Virginia or Kentucky who have to go to New York or California or any big place that has treatment for them. I didn’t realize how much cost went into this, and how important it is that we do stuff like this.”

Dziak says she understands people’s hesitation to join in or to donate. It can be daunting, especially if they’ve never experience cancer’s challenges first hand.

“I definitely encourage people to try it, just one year,” said Dziak. “If they don’t want to stay, that’s okay, I can respect that, but just give it a try, one time, and just talk to people who are cancer survivors or people whose lives have been affected by cancer. Then you can see all the benefits that are going to occur there for them.”