Southern student Jim Zarifis said he remembers being an “awesome” baseball player at the time of his cancer diagnosis in 2002, as he addressed fellow survivors and participants of Friday evening through Saturday morning’s Relay for Life — an event that has raised over $150,000 in six years.
Zarifis was in the 6th grade when he underwent what he thought was a successful surgery. Two days later, the entire left side of his body became paralyzed and his speech impaired, he said.
“I fought through it in the 8th grade and we found out the medicine had a side effect that weakened my bones,” said Zarifis, a freshman exercise science major.
Having broken his hip during physical therapy, Zarifis said he used a wheelchair for the rest of middle school. In high school, he began using a walker but quickly gave it up and started walking on his own.
Zarifis said his hip miraculously got better, but he is still working on his left side.
“For people who have cancer,” said Zarifis, “it’s a struggle, but you have to fight through it.”
Zarifis described this year’s event as “awesome” because of all the fun activities taking place throughout the night, as well as the students’ efforts.
“I understand that we’re all in college and are already struggling just paying for tuition and books and stuff, so donating to the relay was a big deal and means a lot,” said Zarifis.
According to Stefan Keller, Colleges Against Cancer treasurer, CAC was the event’s main sponsor in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.
Keller, a sophomore social work major, said 435 people registered to donate money to the ACS, including at least 20 student clubs and organizations.
According to the ACS website, Southern’s relay raised $20,420.15.
The evening’s activities were open to everyone and included the opening ceremony, performances, a game show and movie showings.
Celebrate, remember, fight back — these are goals for all relays, said Ben McNamee, relay co-chair.
McNamee said the 16 registered survivors, who had on purple T-shirts, are the reason Southern holds
Survivor Anthony Guerino of East Haven said he has been attending Relays throughout the area since he was diagnosed with throat cancer five years ago. He has also been diagnosed with skin cancer twice.
“I’m disappointed that there aren’t many survivors here,” said Guerino. “I appreciate the support I get from the students.”
In the opening celebration, President Cheryl Norton said it would be her last time addressing Relay for Life, adding that she would be leaving her post as president after May 28.
Norton announced she has leukemia and said she appreciated the support of those who attended the overnight event.
“Every dollar you raise is a dollar that might help me to ensure my disease doesn’t overcome my body,” said Norton.
Throughout the evening, members of several organizations held on-site fundraisers, including a haunted house built by Hill Regional Career High School students and a bake sale run by Psych Alliance.
Leslie Betters, Psych Alliance secretary, said 16 members were expected to participate in the event.
“We love doing community service,” said Betters. “It gets the club members to do something together.”