Students gather on metal bleachers in the gym as organizers introduce cancer survivors. Each survivor is given a sash, and the relay kicks off with the survivor lap. The survivors walk along the track while the gym fills with loud applause. The survivors blow kisses to the crowd.
Bruno Mars and Katy Perry blast in the gym as the team’s take a lap and kick off the relay, and the cancer survivors high-five people as they walk by. Other teams go to their makeshift campsites and socialize.
Relay for Life is a nationwide event where schools and organizations across the country raise money for cancer foundations. The event lasts anywhere from six to 24 hours where team members constantly walk on the track at all times; this to illustrate how cancer never sleeps. Each team must have at least one team member on the track at all times. While this is happening, different participants find ways to raise money during the relay by selling goods and getting donations through games.
The University of Northern Colorado Relay for Life happens every April, and this year lasted from Friday at 6 p.m. to Saturday at 6 a.m. About 30 to 40 teams including GREEK life, clubs and residence halls signed up.
At the event was Julie Mildenberger with her daughters, Maggie, who is a UNC student, and Molly. They both attended in support of Denny Mildenberger, Julie’s husband. Denny is a survivor of tonsil cancer, and has been cancer-free for the last seven to eight years. His daughter lives on campus, and looked into UNC’s Ben Nighthorse Campbell Center, which is designed for cancer rehabilitation.
“My husband’s a cancer survivor and he happened to walk by two doors down from where she lived and saw cancer in the name of a building,” Julie said. “He’s the kind of person that wanted to go and figure what they were doing, he went in, talked to them, and now he drives up to Greeley from Thornton three times a week to work out with the students from UNC.”
The Ben Nighthorse Campbell Center helps patients recover from treatment-related symptoms through exercise. This is the only center that offers this type of rehabilitation.
For Julie, having her daughter come to UNC was a direct result of why they are involved in Relay for Life. Even though Denny has been cancer-free, the center still offered to help Denny with his health.
“They gave him a reason to get off the couch, so he’s been highly motivated. I think we’re going on six weeks of a 12-week program,” Julie said.
According to Julie, the students “kick his butt” and motivate him to lift weights and such. Through the rehab center, Denny has done things he couldn’t imagine doing anywhere else. Denny was 40 years old when he was diagnosed. He was having a hard time swallowing, and after getting a biopsy, he was told he had cancer; he had surgery a couple of weeks later.
Denny went through 30 rounds of radiation and two large doses of chemotherapy, had a feeding tube for nine months and lost 75 pounds. During treatment, the Mildenberger family utilized technology to connect family members who couldn’t be there for treatment.
Today, Denny and his family work with cancer survivors and caregivers because they want to help and teach others what they learned in their personal experience. Denny works with Imerman Angels, an organization that allows people to be matched with others dealing with similar cancers. He has often helped people at their lowest moments in their treatment process.
It was the family’s first time joining UNC’s relay, but it’s not their first time participating in Relay for Life. Like Julie, other people at the event had personal experiences with cancer. UNC sophomore Emma Bostwick, an early childhood major, has a cousin with cancer.
“That kinda just made me want to do it even more. I always cared about it, but it’s real personal now, so let’s fix it,” Bostwick said.
Bostwick was also on the planning committee for the event, and is a part of the Bear Hug Club. Bostwick has done Relay for Life before, but this year it was her first time on the committee; she encourages people to join the committee and be a part of Relay for Life because people can really make a difference.
UNC junior Cody Dorman, a human services major, also helped organize the event. He explained how vital it is to fight cancer, and how he admires the bravery of survivors and their families. Dorman wanted to acknowledge and thank those families.
“Thank you for all you do, and fighting cancer is a battle I can’t even imagine, but they’re incredibly brave, and they’re incredibly inspiring and just thank you for fighting that battle,” Dorman said.
Julie Mildenberger was really excited for the event and was thankful for everything UNC has done for her family.
“It’s healing to come to an event like this,” Julie said. “I love the vibe here at UNC.”