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Relay For Life Volunteers United by More than the Bonds of Sisterhood

Two UC sorority sisters, both cancer survivors, will walk in UC’s Relay For Life April 28-29.

Date: 4/19/2006
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Andrew Higley
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Amanda Durrette, left, and Nicole Drumm
Amanda Durrette, left, and Nicole Drumm

Two members of the University of Cincinnati Theta Phi Alpha sorority know firsthand how the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life pulls a community together for a night of determination, a night of remembrance and a night of celebration – all in one. Amanda Durrette and Nicole Drumm are both survivors of the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, and both were diagnosed with the disease within the past two years. They’ll be leading two different teams of walkers to raise funds for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life at the University of Cincinnati beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, April 28 and running through noon Saturday, April 29 on McMicken Commons.

Relay For Life is an overnight event that is the largest fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. Peter Osborne, Southwest Ohio Public Relations Director for the American Cancer Society, says volunteers around Ohio raised more than $15.3 million to fight cancer through 198 Relay For Life events in 2005. That Ohio figure is expected to increase to $17 million this year. Nationwide, Osborne says relay volunteers raised $351 million in 2006 and well over $1 billion since the first relay in 1985.

Money raised through Relay For Life supports cancer research, education and advocacy programs. Around the nation, more than three million people participate in Relay For Life fund-raisers at schools, fairgrounds and parks. Cancer survivors kick off the relay by taking the very first victory lap.

Amanda Durrette
Amanda Durrette

Amanda Durrette of Winton Woods is a 21-year-old senior who’s looking forward to graduating in June with her bachelor’s degree in social work. She is also the outgoing president of Theta Phi Alpha sorority, following the same pathway as her sister, Erin Durrette Gagen, who was president of the sorority when Amanda first started at UC. The fair-skinned redhead says she had never even heard of melanoma when she noticed a mole on her skin “started looking funny.” She was diagnosed during summer 2004. “When I first had the mole removed and I started reading about skin cancer on the Internet, I thought I was the poster child for the risk factors – red hair, fair skin, blue eyes, and I had been sunburned as a child. But I discovered it really early. I was lucky they even found it.”

The American Cancer Society reports melanoma is almost always curable when found in the early stages. 20-year-old Nicole Drumm of New Philadelphia, Ohio, a second-year electronic media major at UC, says she thought she was doing just that when she first sought a doctor’s opinion and says she was told it was nothing to worry about. Three years later and still worried about the look of a mole on her leg, she consulted with another physician and was diagnosed with stage two melanoma last September. “My doctor told me I was the youngest case of melanoma he ever had. I had to go in for a second surgery after the removal and biopsy to have two lymph nodes removed.”

Nicole Drumm
Nicole Drumm

“I was a mess,” Nicole continued. “Our sorority was making plans for Rainbow Week, our recruitment period, and I called Amanda to tell her what happened and that I couldn’t go. That’s when she told me, ‘Oh, I had melanoma too!’ She was great, just telling me that everything was going to be okay, and then I received flowers from the sorority.”

Both women report they are okay now, and did not have to undergo any additional treatments. Amanda gets regular skin checkups every four months.

And, both women participated in Relay For Life events before they became cancer patients and cancer survivors. It’s Amanda’s fourth year in a relay, after first getting involved in an event during her senior year at Winton Woods High School. “It’s a fun event to raise money that you know will go toward helping a lot of people,” she says. Amanda will be walking with a team representing Theta Phi Alpha sorority.  Nicole will be heading up a team that represents the National Broadcasting Society. “This is my second year. I first walked in the UC Relay For Life last year. I think it’s a good way to get involved in the campus community, plus it’s a fun way to earn community service hours [as part of her Cincinnatus Scholarship commitment].”

Amanda and Nicole

The University of Cincinnati is hosting its fourth annual Relay For Life, organized by UC students under the guidance of the Center for Community Engagement. Ryan Vose, a third-year electrical engineering student, is event co-chair for the UC relay. He says the students hope to raise $75,000 this year, after raising $71,000 for Relay For Life last year. “Right now, we have 76 teams signed up and more than 850 participants,” says Vose, who adds UC Football Coach Mark Dantonio will be featured with opening remarks at the relay.

UC faculty, staff, students and members of the outside community can also support Relay For Life by making a donation. The UC/Relay For Life campaign will be taking donations through Aug. 31. For more information, check the UC/Relay For Life Web site

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