After Melissa Behling realized how many of her friends had been affected by cancer, she decided to get involved in Relay for Life, a fundraising event organized by the American Cancer Society in order to support cancer research. Behling, who lost a friend to a brain tumor at a young age, formed a team with her sister and several friends.
Melissa Behling sits with her sisters, Lizzy and Jessica, and their friend Shelby Gunderson, after the luminaria ceremony at this year’s Relay for Life fundraising event.
“Our friend, Shelby, her mom passed away from cancer, so we kind of started this team for her,” Behling says. Also, Lupe, another of our friends, her mom is struggling with cancer. She’s still fighting.”
According to one of Relay for Life’s co-directors, Madeline Bireley, between 1500 and 1600 people attended. Bireley, who has been involved with Relay for Life for several years, believes that the event is an important way to bring community members and survivors together while raising awareness concerning cancer research.
“Both of my grandmas died of cancer, so I’m just really passionate about it,” Bireley says. “It’s a great way to do something to give back.”
The event began at 6 p.m. on Friday and continued until 6 a.m. this morning, featuring performances from groups like the Mad Tappers, a UW-Madison tap dancing group, and Pitches & Notes, one of the campus a capella groups.
One of the fundraiser’s main events is a luminaria, a memorial ceremony, where cancer survivors shared their stories while others mourned the loss of friends and family by lighting the track at Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center with electric “candles” in personalized paper bags.
“The luminaria portion of this is what it’s all about,” Behling says. “You can feel this energy that you’ve never felt before. Feeling connected to all these people who are trying to deal with this horrible disease. I can’t even imagine losing my mom or my sister to something like this.”