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Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

A re-imagined Relay for Life

The annual fundraiser run by students goes online this year to raise donations for the Canadian Cancer Society.

2020 was a challenging year for many of us, and especially Max Silverman. On Jan. 8, 2020, the third-year Bachelor of Science student was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Max Silverman, Cancer Survivor
Max Silverman, cancer survivor and virtual participant, 2021 Relay for Life Fundraiser

“I had been experiencing progressively worsening symptoms of night sweats, intense itching, and, ultimately, difficulty breathing over the fall and winter of 2019,” Silverman says. “An X-ray finally revealed a large tumor in my chest which at its peak was compressing my trachea to 3 mm in diameter.”

This frightening discovery landed him in the intensive care unit at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, where he had his first chemotherapy treatment.  

“Thankfully, the tumor shrank, and I was able to proceed with the rest of my treatments over the following six months at home in Ottawa,” he says. “I am thrilled to say that I am coming up on six months since I was officially deemed cancer free!”

Silverman says he was fortunate to have benefitted from the powers of scientific advancement in cancer treatment, and experience firsthand the immense support and care from healthcare workers he has always admired. It is just one of the reasons why he is looking forward to participating in the 15th annual Relay for Life event at Queen’s University. This year, the event will be held virtually, from March 19-21.

Student organizers have been hard at work this past year promoting the upcoming virtual event, including holding cooking and workout classes to generate some early interest in the fundraiser.

Instead of an in-person overnight event, participants will have access to Zoom links for the virtual event, which will take place over three evenings.

“Everyone who participates can expect the same energy and entertainment of an in-person event, but now from the safety of their own home,” says Natalie Hanna, Co-President, Queen's Relay For Life 2020-2021. “On Friday March 19, the event will kick off with opening ceremonies, acknowledging our cancer survivors and our top fundraisers, as well as having a ‘live’ Zumba instruction from David Champagne. March 20 will include our luminary ceremony which honours those who have lost their battle to cancer. On this day, people can expect to hear others’ stories and journeys, in addition to musical performances. Our last day, March 21, will include our closing remarks, announce winners for our silent auction and raffle, and our grand cheque reveal.” 

Participants are encouraged to walk on their own each day, and can track their progress alongside their team members by using the newly-updated Relay for Life app.

“Cancer hasn’t stopped with COVID-19,” Hanna says. “It has actually caused a lot more isolation and barriers for cancer patients. It is more important than ever to fundraise and maintain the resources that the Canadian Cancer Society has in place.”

The 2021 edition hopes to raise $100,000, along with awareness for the battle against cancer. Over the years, the event has raised more than $650,000.

It would be understandable if Silverman chose to look back at his battle with cancer with grief, and even anger. It left him severely immunocompromised amidst a global pandemic, and affected his studies.   But he has chosen to remain positive.

“If you know me, you know that I prefer a more optimistic outlook,” he says. “I will graduate from Queen’s this spring and I will start medical school at McMaster this summer. I also grew closer to my amazing friends and family who rallied behind me – to whom I cannot begin to express my gratitude – and together we were able to raise over $15,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society in 2020. My team has raised $6,000 so far for the 2021 event.”

Individuals can register at relayforlife.ca/queensu. They will receive a Zoom link on March 19. The stream will be available each day starting at 7 pm EST and last between 1-2 hours.