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A call to action’

Marisa Iati | Friday, April 12, 2013

For junior Jenny Fucillo, losing her grandmother to multiple myeloma in January was “a call to action.”

“I had never been touched by someone who was part of my everyday life who had passed from cancer,” Fucillo said. “And going to the hospital and seeing the hard work that nurses do and doctors do, I just wanted to be a part of something I felt like I could do.”

Inspired by her experience, Fucillo is now one of the biggest fundraisers of more than 1,000 participants in tonight’s Relay for Life at the Compton Family Ice Arena. From 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. tomorrow, members of the Notre Dame community will walk to commemorate people affected by cancer and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

This is Fucillo’s first time participating in Relay for Life, she said, and she was overwhelmed by the amount of support she received from her family when fundraising. 

“I think it’s because we all went through [my grandmother’s death],” she said. “I think it was a wake-up call for all of us that we’re not going to have everyone for long. … My grandmother was the toughest woman I know. And everything – my athletic abilities, my school ethic – is all from her, and I feel like this is the least I can do for her.”

Other students should not have to endure this type of wake-up call to recognize the need to fund cancer research, Fucillo said. 

“Cancer is such a huge, broad topic that I think it’s hard for people to be touched on personal levels,” she said. “I’m hoping that other students will kind of be touched by this and see how much outreach there is and feel themselves that ‘I should be donating, I myself should be starting a fundraiser.'” 

Fucillo said she hopes funds for cancer research help medical teams more effectively identify the disease in the future. 

“I know it killed [my grandmother] eventually, what she had to go through, all these different treatments, when in the end it was cancer,” Fucillo said. “So, I hope that we’re able to diagnose people sooner and correctly.”


Like Fucillo, Marc Burdell, director of the Alumni Association, is participating in Relay for Life for the first time. Unlike Fucillo, however, Burdell is serving as one of two honorary chairpersons.

A self-proclaimed “poster child” for Relay, Burdell is a survivor of follicular lymphoma. This type of blood and lymph node cancer is non-curable and recurring but very treatable, he said. 

“There have been new treatments found even since I was diagnosed that work better than when I was diagnosed due to research of lymphoma,” Burdell said. “So, my cancer is one that has been very impacted by recent research, and the treatment available to me is even better than it was three years ago.” 

Burdell, a 1987 alumnus of the University, said his battle with cancer was “a Notre Dame support story.” Administrators reached out to him, alumni helped treat him and members of the community met at the grotto to pray the rosary for him, he said. 

“It’s just been a Notre Dame journey from Day One, and I’m just very thankful and very blessed to be here,” Burdell said. “I’ve developed so many friends and just people who have helped me, it’s unbelievable to me.”

Relay for Life provides an opportunity to rally around people currently fighting cancer, survivors and those who have lost their battles with the disease, Burdell said. 

“It means something to those of us who have cancer and have dealt with cancer,” he said. “It’s a very engaging event, and it means a lot to me … that people who don’t necessarily have the disease are so touched by people who do. … This is a way that they can take action, steps to actually do something to help the cause.”


Freshman Teresa Kennedy works alongside Burdell as the student honorary chair of Relay for Life. She is a survivor of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. 

Kennedy was diagnosed when she was in the eighth grade, she said. She had surgery to remove the cancer a few months later and received a clean bill of health when she was a junior in high school. 

Kennedy, whose mother also has had cancer, said she has been on the planning committee and a team captain for Relay for Life every year since her diagnosis. She said she realized the importance of good patient services when her mother underwent her own cancer treatment. 

“What a lot of the money [from Relay for Life] goes towards is patient services,” Kennedy said. “Making the patients more comfortable, helping them with transportation and other menial things like that, which I think is great because you don’t realize how much more stressful everything becomes when you have this one big thing on your mind.”

Relay for Life shows people cancer affects everyone and enables them to understand why supporting cancer research is important, Kennedy said. 

“I think every person has a cancer story,” she said. “So, to some extent, people have had some kind of experience with it, close or distant, but I think that this is something tangible that people can grab onto in order to deal with that burden of cancer.” 


Although sophomore Mary Wickert participated in Relay for Life in high school, she said the cause became personal when her father was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer in October. Her dad’s cancer is terminal, but also the less invasive of two types of pancreatic cancer, Wickert said. 

“There’s not as much of a time frame now, kind of thinking ‘ticking time bomb, how long is he going to be around,’ but it’s still a harsh reality,” she said. “He has cancer that’s not going to be cured. … That’s why Relay for Life is pretty important to me.” 

Wickert was the highest fundraiser for the Relay event at Notre Dame, according to the Relay for Life website. She said Relay’s commitment to increasing lifespans for people fighting cancer is admirable. 

“My dad, there’s not going to be a cure for him, unfortunately, and that’s the reality of it, but Relay for Life really gives hope for other people,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Right now we don’t have a cure, that’s the end of it.’ … What they stand for is really important to me because it helps potentially avoid the situation for people in the future. You never know how close we are to finding a cure.” 

Wickert said she hopes participating in Relay for Life helps people better relate to others’ encounters with cancer. 

“I hope people see that it’s not just another way to raise money,” Wickert said. “There’s an emotional effect that it has on people. … There’s a lot of advertisement like, ‘Join our team. Come on, we have a goal, we need to raise more money.’ 

“That’s not really the point. The point is that there is potentially no more Relay for Life. The end goal is to not have to have this. That might be 100 years in the future, but it’s got to start somewhere.”