ORLANDO, Fla. – Chris Alegria is a grade 4 brain cancer survivor. He battled for nine months and watched his father overcome stage 4 lung cancer and his mother beat stage 3 thyroid cancer.
Because of their battles, they’re thankful for each new day.
"But here we are today, a few years later," Alegria said. "And we're all fighting each day and appreciating life despite all of this crazy tornado that has been for the past three years."
Now, Alegria is the survivors chair and a board member for the Relay for Life organization at the University of Central Florida. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s relay was virtual.
Musicians, performers, speakers and board members posted videos on Facebook Live and the relay has already raised more than $37,000.
Kendall Brown, the community relations manager for the American Cancer Society, had the following message for the student volunteers:
“This is definitely going to be a learning experience for us,” Brown said. “It’s going to be challenging, but we’re going to continue in the fight and continue to fight back against cancer. And so we’re going to find new and creative ways to do this and we can still have fun with this.”
The iconic luminaria ceremony still took place on Facebook Live. Event Chair and Student Director Haley Hardin said the planning process for the shortened event went on for hours.
“We just had this idea that we’ll reach out to everyone who is going to be a part of our actual event and ask them if they would film or perform live or come up with any kind of content, give us a speech and what can we put together to bring this message to everyone,” Hardin said. “And I just think that it’s so important, now more than ever, because we really need that message of hope.”
Alegria created a survivor dinner recipe to make at home and spoke during the luminaria ceremony. With his personal experience, he knows how hard tough times can be.
“Positivity really makes a huge difference because being able to be put on the complete bottom of the ground and being able to rise up and slowly go at the pace at becoming happy again,” Alegria said. “That’s just so important. People always think that when you go try to be positive you have to go shoot straight up, but you have to realize you can go up and down, up and down. It’s like a bunch of hills, but as long as you have that positive mentality and (are) realizing, ‘Hey, today might be a bad day, but tomorrow is going to be better,’ that’s what matters.”