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Life Stories: Relay for Life Gives Back

02/16/12
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Survivors Walk at the BC Relay for Life

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 16, 2012

They each have a story.
  
Andrew DiChiara ’12 lost his grandmother to cancer two years ago. Casey Osgood ’14 made the three-hour drive from Chestnut Hill to Wilton, Conn., countless times last year as her mother battled thyroid cancer. Karen Guarino ’13 remembers when her favorite high school teacher was diagnosed and given just five months to live.
  
Cancer has shaped the lives of each of the organizers of the Boston College Relay for Life. On Feb. 24, they will lead an effort to raise $150,000 – which would be a BC Relay for Life record – to support cancer research.
  
“This is so much bigger than a competition. Each person has a personal story,” said DiChiara, a chemistry major from Woburn, Mass., who has been a Relay organizer since his freshman year. “It’s something that we share from the beginning. At the first meeting of the year, we all sit and explain how we have been impacted and we give it all the time it takes to get through everyone in the room.
  
“That shows us all why it is important for us, individually, and why it is important for us, as a group, to be a part of Relay,” said DiChiara.
  
Danny Baush ’12, a biology and psychology major from Holyoke, Mass., got involved with Relay for Life as a freshman. Baush’s grandmother fought cancer, and so when a roommate joined the organizational effort, Baush decided to come along, too. After attending his first Relay for Life at BC, Baush became a fervent supporter.
  
“I tell people that you just have to experience it. Relay was one of the most fun and moving experiences I have ever had at BC,” said Baush, recounting the Luminaria Ceremony, when candles or glow sticks are lit in memory or honor of all those who fight, or who have died of, cancer.
  
“Every year, it is one of the most powerful moments of the night because you see just how many people this disease impacts,” said Baush. “I relay for all the people who have had cancer impact their lives.”
  
For organizers like Osgood, that impact runs deep. Osgood’s mother is now cancer-free, but during Osgood’s first year at Boston College, her family struggled through surgeries and treatment. With two younger brothers at home, Osgood felt torn between being at school and supporting her family.
  
“Cancer has impacted my family in many ways. In 2010, we lost my Aunt Donna to breast cancer after a 10-year fight. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. A year to the day of her passing, my other aunt was diagnosed. And my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer,” said Osgood, a Lynch School of Education student. “So it has been a tough couple years.”
  
Osgood said her work with Relay has been cathartic. “Being a part of Relay has helped get me through all this. I have seen cancer, from a caregiver’s perspective, and I know what an impact the disease can have, not just on the individual, but on the whole family.”  
  
“I don’t think I realized how many people cancer affects until I got onto a big campus, like BC. Here, you see that so many people have similar stories. And you do feel this sense of community – it’s amazing that an event like this can bring together so many people who want to help,” she said.
  
Guarino says she takes hope from the many survivor stories. Guarino’s favorite high school teacher – who was given a bleak diagnosis of just five months to live – continues to thrive after 10 years. But Guarino is keenly aware that not everyone is so lucky: High school also marked a time when her brother’s best friend’s mother passed away from breast cancer.
  
“On a personal note, it’s hard to see someone that you care so much about lose someone close to them,” said Guarino, a sociology and math major from Malvern, Pa. “That’s what initially drew me to Relay: a sense of community and something that everyone could relate to. I didn’t feel so isolated, so helpless against something I couldn’t fix myself.  
  
“The day after the event is when you get hooked. When you see it all come together and see what a great 12 hours it is, you just want to do more,” said Guarino. “It what keeps me coming back.”