In 1999, Zach Dane’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave her six months to live.
She survived for three years.
“Those were the three most exceptional years of my life,” Dane said.
Thirteen years later, Dane, now 21 and a senior at Hofstra University, still thinks about his mother every day.
“Everything I do is for her,” he said.
Dane honors his mother’s memory privately by making choices she would be proud of, but on Saturday night, his usual internal devotion was made public at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event on the Hofstra University campus.
Dane, a co-chair of the event’s committee, was joined by 1,300 students for the 12-hour walk to raise money for the fight against cancer. This is the fifth year the relay has been held at Hofstra. The event raised $105,000.
“This is one of the only events on campus where everyone participates,” said Katie Friedman, 21, senior and co-chair of the event’s committee.
Like Dane, most participants had their own cancer stories, having lost close relatives or friends. Others were survivors themselves.
These survivors led the first lap of the relay, which revolved around a makeshift track outlined by luminaries – white paper bags lit from within by a single candle. The bags were sold for $10, and each bore a message or name of someone who was being honored or remembered.
Friedman has participated in the event every year since she was a freshman to honor her aunt, who died from brain cancer in September.
“It’s such an amazing cause,” Friedman said. “I’ve walked three years in honor of my aunt, and this is the first year I’m walking in her memory.”
While Friedman and Dane shared their stories of loss during the opening ceremony, a reverent tone overtook the field, but as the survivors made their first lap around the luminaries followed by hundreds of students, the evening lent itself to a jovial and hopeful atmosphere.
Throughout the night, students participated in activities and games. Participants could throw a pie in the face of their student council president or purchase a balloon from the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority to release in memory of a relative or friend who lost their battle with cancer.
“I’m so incredibly proud of all the work [the students] have done,” said Eddie Mouradian, Hofstra graduate and director of special events at the American Cancer Society.