A group of cancer survivors opens Adelphi University's Relay for...

A group of cancer survivors opens Adelphi University's Relay for Life with a ceremonial walk around the recreation center. (March 30, 2012) Credit: Michael Cusanelli

As Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run for Life” blared over the speakers, a group of cancer survivors circled the makeshift track in Adelphi University’s Center for Recreation and Sports on Friday night with a crowd of more than 600 applauding them.

The proud survivors hugged and laughed as they participated in the university’s first Relay for Life fundraiser; some carried a large white banner with the American Cancer Society logo emblazoned on it.

“I think that people treat cancer as if it’s something to hide,” said Devin Thornburg, a professor of education at Adelphi and a colon cancer survivor. “For too long we’ve treated it as a dirty disease. It’s a disease to get rid of, but it’s not dirty.”

The university’s goal was to raise $25,000 dollars for cancer research by the end of the night. By the time the doors opened at 7 p.m., over $30,000 in donations had come in.

The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event is a popular fundraiser across the country and helps raise awareness and funding for cancer research. Sponsor teams walk and run laps during these overnight programs in remembrance of those who have lost the battle with cancer and to celebrate the lives of those who have battled the disease.

Cancer survivors at Adelphi ranged from those in their mid-20s and 30s to those in their 50s.

“It’s sad to see that so many people are touched by cancer,” said Emily McSpadden, 35, a survivor of thyroid cancer and a brain tumor. “But it’s good to know that they’re being positive and doing everything they can to find a cure.”

Throughout the night, students performed dance numbers, played games and some even had their hair cut as participants continued to walk the commemorative circle, lined with the names of those whose lives have been changed by cancer.

Eleven volunteers donated 8 inches of hair each to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program in order to make wigs for cancer victims.

“I’ve always been excited for Relay,” said Katherine Graves, 20, who donated hair. “It’s good to donate for someone who needs it.”

Jennifer Ganley, a graduate student at Adelphi, raised $1,600 for the event, making her the largest single donor.

“Everyone is affected in one way or another [by cancer],” said Ganley, whose grandmother and grandfather died of lung cancer and melanoma, respectively. “It’s amazing to see that it can have a happy ending.”