As the sun sets over Burruss Hall in the middle of April, thousands of students and community members will gather to celebrate at the world’s largest known collegiate relay.
Although Relay for Life at Virginia Tech makes the Drillfield look like a city of its own, it’s more than a yearlong fundraiser for the survivors who get to take the first lap.
Tech’s Relay is celebrated in three different stages throughout the night: Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back. Before any real relaying begins, cancer survivors take the first lap around the makeshift track.
Lauren Herrity, a junior communication major, had her first experience with cancer as a sophomore in high school. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Herrity spent three weeks in the hospital following her diagnosis and started chemotherapy a week after her tumor was removed.
“Usually (for chemotherapy) you only do about seven hours at a time,” Herrity said. “I had it five days straight, twice.”
Because she was only 14 at the time, Herrity received her treatment at a pediatric hospital. Her experience there, she said, sparked her desire to get involved with Relay. She is now the chair of Survivorship and Caregiver Engagement for Tech’s event.
“Where I’m from, the people aren’t really close with their parents until they move away,” Herrity said. “I really had to evaluate my life then, because those little kids were going through cancer treatments better than I was.”
For Herrity, going into high school with cancer came with additional concerns. She never had to miss school for treatment, but not many of Herrity’s peers at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., understood how her cancer would affect her daily life.
“I had such a good wig that nobody realized it wasn’t real,” Herrity said.
That was the moment when another cancer patient stepped into her life. Jan Develli, a seven-year breast cancer survivor and career center assistant at Briar Woods High School, gave Herrity’s peers a short presentation about cancer after her wig accidentally came off in class.
“Some students thought they would catch (the cancer),” Develli said. “I let them know that I had the same treatment that she did.”
Herrity and Develli’s connection became a line of support for both women while Herrity was in high school. While Herrity opted to wear a wig, Develli received special permission to wear a hat in school. When Herrity had her tonsils removed and received her lymphoma diagnosis, Develli had also just finished a year of treatment for her breast cancer.
Herrity was able to pay back the kindness Develli showed her in high school by inviting her to participate in the survivor’s lap of Tech’s Relay. Herrity has participated in the survivor’s lap since her freshman year; she said that cancer patients and survivors appreciate the public support.