12/21/2016 9:00:00 AM

Kicking off Relay for Life at SUNY Poly

Last year, the first-ever Relay for Life event at SUNY Poly’s Utica campus was held, raising more than $19,000 for cancer research.

Kicking off this year’s Relay for Life events, a party was held in November to encourage registration for the event, as well as offer the opportunity to learn more about the impact of cancer, the research being done to combat it, and what everyone can do to help in the fight.

Hosted by Colleges Against Cancer, the Relay for Life Kick-Off Party was held in the lobby of the Student Center, with activities, games, speakers, and even a sundae bar, letting anyone who registers for Relay for Life to make their own sweet treat.

“We’re trying to get students to sign up to either join or start a team for the April event,” said Robert Elinskas, Director of Special Events for the American Cancer Society. “Students have been doing an awesome job. They’re the ones who have been coordinating this event – intended to target students and faculty right where they are, on campus.”

Nate Mitts, a sophomore at SUNY Poly majoring in computer science, is the President of Colleges Against Cancer and helps bring together the numerous people who help make the event possible. Mitts says that targeting the college community is a smart move in the effort to raise awareness and help fund cancer research.”

“Why college students? We’re a big demographic in the area. We can do our share to help. Last year we only had two months to organize and we raised nearly $20,000. This year I hope we can raise $30,000,” Mitts said. “This is a great cause and when college life is over, students are going out into the real world. The advocacy they show here will carry over into the rest of the their lives.”

Someone familiar with that advocacy and the hard work behind it is SUNY Poly senior and network and computer security major Khameron Gumbs, who not only started his own Relay team last year, but was simultaneously involved with five different Relay teams thanks to his involvement in many different clubs and organizations at SUNY Poly.

This year, he has his own team (the SUNY Borders Club) where he is captain, but he’s still making the time to help out other teams of the many on-campus groups he’s involved with. During the Relay for Life Kick-Off Party, Gumbs was manning the trivia wheel. Attendees spun the wheel and based on the color of triangle the spinner landed on, they’d answer trivia questions pertaining to Relay for Life, Cancer Education, or even SUNY Poly. He’s no stranger to keeping folks both educated and entertained, also serving as Activities and Entertainment Chair for Relay at SUNY Poly, coordinating everything that falls within that realm for lead-in events right through the main Relay event.

“It’s showing the community that we care, and getting more student involvement,” Gumbs said. “I hate hearing people say they’re bored here, that there’s nothing to do. I’ve found a lot of things to do. I keep very busy.”

“Cancer impacts everyone – college students included. Or maybe it’s someone in their family, or their friends,” said Elinskas. “And this is an opportunity for them, as a community to fight back against cancer.”

One person who knows that impact all too well, is SUNY Poly’s own Lynne Browne, one of the event’s featured speakers.

While her official title at SUNY Poly is Web Coordinator, she spoke to the crowds at the Relay Kickoff Event in another capacity – cancer survivor. Browne was diagnosed in 2006 with Stage 2 breast cancer.

“I can vividly remember that day,” she told the crowd. “I had a regular mammogram done in late January where they detected a lump. That afternoon my doctor’s office called me and said ‘who do you want to go to?’ and I told them ‘how do I know? I never had to deal with this type of thing before.’”

Once she was able to think clearly after such life-altering news, Browne remembered that a lot of her friends had frequently mentioned a particular doctor, whom she called and met with for a biopsy.

From there, Browne underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as she fought back the cancer.

“My surgery was in early March, and then I started chemo in April. On May 5 my hair really started falling out and I had my husband shave my head. It was a strange thing to go through, but that’s all part of the treatment,” she told the crowd. “By the beginning of November, my hair finally started to come back in and by the end of November, I was done with radiation treatments. I still had to have infusions through the following June, but at least those treatments didn’t make me sick.”

At last year’s Relay kick-off event, Browne easily could think of 15 people she knew who had cancer. She says that in just that short amount of time, she’s had to add two more people to the list of those she knows who have been diagnosed.

“It’s a scary thing to be told you have cancer,” she says. “Your ability to hear and comprehend vanishes. You think the doctor is wrong and there must be a mistake, but after you’ve had some time to let the news sink in, you start to do some research about what you’ve been told. You go online and dig for answers.”

It’s through these personal experiences, moments of sadness and conflict, and ultimately her triumph against cancer, that has led Browne to become an outspoken advocate for awareness and events like Relay for Life, that shine a light not only on the research being done to combat the disease, but the resources that are out there for those who have been diagnosed.

“You’re not alone,” she said. “Reach out to the American Cancer Society. They can and will help.”