UF students affected by cancer busy with Relay for Life


UF student Andrew Ruiz is event chair for this year's UF Relay for Life. His mother died from cancer.

Stephanie Covey
Published: Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

"My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and passed away in 2003," says University of Florida student Andrew Ruiz. "I don't want another child to lose a parent the way I did."

This year, Ruiz is the event chair of UF's 2010 Relay for Life.

Fellow UF student Devon Vickers, 20, was 11 years old when she was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.

Luckily for Vickers, a treatment called Gleevec -- a "miracle pill" developed through research sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society -- was approved by the Federal Drug Administration two months prior to her diagnosis.

Upon taking Gleevec, Vickers was able to resume attending school only two months after being diagnosed.

Vickers was rediagnosed with cancer at 16, and was brought to Shands Hospital for a bone marrow transplant. She is now in remission and holds a position as one of the UF Relay for Life survivor chairs.

Today Ruiz and Vickers are busy at UF working on behalf of cancer research. Funding such research is one of the missions of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

At the UF Relay for Life, set for March 26-27, teams gather inside the O'Connell Center for the 18-hour overnight relay, in which each team raises money and has a participant walking or running on the track at all times.

Ruiz hopes Relay for Life 2010 exceeds the $118,000 raised at last year's event by putting more of an emphasis on cancer survivors who attend this year.

In previous years, survivors were given sashes to wear when they arrived for the relay, provided a dinner and asked to walk the first lap, the survivor's lap. This year, Ruiz said he plans to make it more ceremonious.

He hopes that by calling the survivors on stage individually to place the sash on them and by announcing how long they have been survivors that the event will be more impactful.

Ruiz also believes that the new sash ceremony will more effectively allow participants to show their support for the survivors and their families.

Brittany Trimble, accounting and registration chair for Relay for Life, said 39 teams have registered and approximately $12,000 has already been raised, which is $2,000 less than this time last year.

Trimble said she anticipates donations to quickly increase in the last two months before the relay. She also said that the majority of the fundraising is done during the event.

Ruiz, a 20-year-old telecommunications major, said that most organizations seem to take their commitments on a semester-by-semester basis. Seven teams joined relay this week, and that number is expected to grow to meet their 62-team goal.

At the team captain party this week, the Relay for Life committee announced it was initiating a texting service that it hopes will be a useful tool to enable teams to build camaraderie.

Ruiz has also encouraged a contest between teams to earn spirit points this year. Spirit points had been incorporated in Relay for Life previously, but were only given out at the event. Currently points are given to teams for signing up, attending meetings and much more.

"When I was in high school, it was something that drove us. Friendly competition pushes us to do better and more things," Ruiz said.

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