Everyone listened in silence as SMU freshman Avery Mercurio finished up her touching speech about her friend, Rebecca Brimmage, she lost to cancer. Tears streamed down the faces of many, from cancer survivors to participants to volunteers. With a tear and a smile, Mercurio thanked everyone for their support as they burst into applause and the event officially began.
SMU Relay for Life hosted its 15th annual Relay for Life event Friday in the Hughes-Trigg Ballroom to raise money for the American Cancer Society and awareness among the Dallas community. This year, they dedicated the event to Brimmage, an SMU freshman who passed away on Dec. 27 from Ewing’s Sarcoma.
“I think it’s so special that they are honoring someone who was not only a cancer survivor, but was also so much more,” Mercurio said. “The way that she lived her life provides us with a road map for how we should act. I hope that just as Relay For Life honored her life, that the student body at SMU can maintain her legacy by making a committed effort to help those around them more than themselves.”
Brimmage touched the lives of many, including Relay for Life’s co-chair and SMU senior Ashley Rogers, who heard Brimmage’s story at a Make A Wish event a couple years ago. As she worked to commemorate Brimmage and other survivors, Rogers learned about the large need to fight cancer.
“Cancer can happen at all ages and the funds that we are raising here are going toward treatments that can help even teenagers like Rebecca in the future,” Rogers said. “What’s so sad today is that all of us know someone who’s had cancer or is currently battling cancer, but [Relay for Life] provides a way for all of us to get together and know that we are not alone in this.”
This warm, united community SMU provides has not only caught the eyes of the Relay for Life staff but also of the many cancer survivors. Former SMU CCPA Professor and breast cancer survivor Christy Baily-Byers, who is celebrating her 10th anniversary this year, shed tears as she shared her story and the impact of the SMU community on her life.
“The spirit of the students and the support and encouragement is so impactful to me,” Baily-Byers said. “Usually it’s really loud and everyone is screaming for you and high-fiving you and holding hands and it’s just very heartwarming,” Baily-Byers said.
The support of the students has made a large impact on the American Cancer Society (ACS). SMU Relay for Life has raised about $1.5 million since it began in 2005. ACS Community Development Manager Adriana Perez appreciates SMU’s contribution, which has allowed ACS to not only further research cancer, but also to provide various services for cancer patients.
“There’s a lot of times when people think that we just fundraise, but it’s more than that,” Perez said.
Perez went on to list the various services ACS provides, including rides to treatment, a 24-hour hotline, the Look Good Feel Better program, free stay, and free wigs.
“It’s little services like that where people don’t really see or know the money is going to.”
These services have helped millions of cancer patients across the globe. Breast cancer survivor and current advisor to the Chi Omega chapter Karen Gray attended her 16th Relay for Life this year and enjoys the atmosphere and efforts of the SMU students and organization.
“At the survivor table, we only see each other at this event every year and it’s so fun to see them again and catch up,” Gray said. “I love how SMU treats the survivors and I love that you can look around the room and see different student groups who have met and gathered together under the common denominator of supporting what cancer research can do. Yes, we raise money. That’s the goal of the project. But there’s an underlying thread of relationship that you get to build among everybody and I love it. I absolutely would not miss it.”
The community that SMU provides proves to be impactful to both participants and survivors. Although cancer is a widespread disease today, there is a strong passion and commitment among the Dallas community to find a cure.
“One out of every eight women in that room is going to face breast cancer,” Gray said. “So if the last thing they remember when they hear a diagnosis later on is one sentence I might have said tonight, let the spirit move that message to who needs to hear it.”