Relay for Life Unites Students in Fight Against Cancer

Laura Stemp 05/03/2015

On March 13, hundreds of Queen’s students will gather in the ARC Main Gym for a Friday night sleepover to celebrate (what hopes to be) a total of over $50 000 raised through Queen’s Relay for Life. Relay is an annual event hosted across the country at high schools, universities, community centres, and other venues through the Canadian Cancer Society. In 2014, 128 732 Canadians participated in the event, which raised a combined total of over $42.2 million. Queen’s Relay 2015 will host over forty student teams representing faculties, campus clubs, services, residences, and more.

Queen’s Relay for Life is made possible in large part thanks to the hundreds of hours of preparation done by the Relay Executive, a committee of 19 student volunteers who organize the event. Alex Velickovic, Team Captain Exec, was inspired to get involved with Queen’s Relay thanks to a friend who was part of last year’s Executive. Alex’s personal connection with cancer has influenced the way she looks at research and treatment. Three summers ago, her grandfather was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and Alex and her family struggled to remain positive while her grandfather fought for his life. Despite the struggle, thanks to innovative treatments, Alex’s grandfather won his battle with cancer, and has been in remission for over three years.

For Alex, seeing how the newest and best surgery equipment and techniques saved her grandfather’s life proved that research and scientific innovation make all the difference for cancer patients. Through her participation in Relay 2015, Alex hopes to contribute towards this year’s goal of raising $55 000 through the event. However, most importantly, Alex wants to spread Relay for Life’s message of hope for a future without cancer. She wants to show cancer patients that they are not alone in their struggle, and that their friends, family, and community are working diligently to find a cure for cancer.

While many participants get involved with Relay for the first time in high school or university, Maggie Ottenhof first participated in 1999 when her sister, Nana, and Grandpa were part of the Survivor’s Victory Lap. Sixteen years later, Maggie is still involved in Relay, and was chosen to be the Awareness Co-Chair of Queen’s Relay 2015. It is Maggie’s job to oversee the educational aspects of this year’s event while promoting the importance of the work done by the Canadian Cancer Society to improve the lives of people who are affected by cancer.

In 2012, Maggie learned that her father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For Maggie and her family, Relay for Life and the Canadian Cancer Society’s other projects are a beacon of light and a source of hope. Maggie highlights that Relay is representative of the journey a cancer patient experiences. The event runs overnight, resulting in exhaustion and emotional strain. However, there are opportunities for participants to celebrate developments in cancer research and treatment, and gather to reflect on the importance of community support for cancer patients and their families. 1999, Maggie and her sister and family have participated in Relay annually as team “Holly’s Hippies”, raising over $30 000 to date.

A group of first year students from Watts Hall have entered a Relay team dedicated to their floormate, Carley, who is currently fighting clear cell sarcoma. Laura Belford, the team’s captain, hopes that Watts 6 can support Carley through their fundraising and awareness efforts. A Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor herself, Laura recognizes that forms of cancer impact all of us directly or indirectly. She has many friends and family members who have been diagnosed with cancer, and she likes that Relay for Life is an opportunity for survivors to celebrate their recovery. Laura hopes that fundraising and awareness created through events like Relay for Life will continue to increase the survival rates for cancer patients.

One of Laura’s favourite aspects of Relay is the combination of fundraising, awareness, survivor stories, and the celebratory games and activities that are all part of the twelve hour event. For Laura, Relay is an opportunity for students to gather as a community to celebrate life and all of the recent achievements that have been made in the field of cancer research.

Many campus clubs get involved in Queen’s Relay as a way of both giving back to the broader community and providing club members with an opportunity to bond and work towards a common philanthropic goal. Neal Marcotte and the Queen’s Rotaract Club got involved in Relay in an effort to practice their mission of giving students “the opportunity to contribute to their local and global communities through a variety of volunteer initiatives”. Through their participation in campus and Kingston events, the Rotaract Club raises funds and awareness for a number of social services and initiatives. Having lost two grandparents to cancer during his childhood, Neal hopes that his team’s fundraising efforts will contribute to treatment research that will prevent other people from losing family and friends to cancer.

Alex Vallance and Zeta Psi Kingston participate in many fundraising initiatives throughout Kingston, and one of their main projects this year is Queen’s Relay for Life. Zeta Psi’s mission is a commitment “to the development of leadership, character and intellect and to the service of their brothers, their communities, and mankind”. In addition to Relay, other Zeta Psi projects this year have included food drives, the Terry Fox Run, and Movember. Alex says his team has committed to making Relay an annual initiative, and they hope to place within the top three fundraising teams at Queen’s this year. With a total of $4400 raised last year by their team in less than two weeks, Alex hopes to bring this year’s team total over $5000.

Thanks to the commitment of these Queen’s students and hundreds of others, Friday March 13 will be an opportunity for our school community to celebrate an incredible fundraising achievement. If you are interested in joining the cause, please visit to create a team, join someone else’s team, or donate to a friend’s fundraising efforts. Questions regarding Queen’s Relay can be directed to the Executive at

Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.

Laura Stemp is a 4th Year Global Development Studies Student