Although a junior at Temple University, Upper Dublin graduate Alyssa Herman devoted much of her time this past year to working with local high school students, from Upper Dublin, Wissahickon, Springfield and Germantown Academy. She was fiercely determined to make sure that these students had the same opportunity she did to become part of something bigger than themselves — the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

Alyssa was 9 years old when her father, Elliott Herman, died of bile duct cancer, leaving her feeling helpless and grief-stricken. But discovering the Relay For Life as a freshman in high school changed things for her. It replaced helplessness with purpose and provided her with a way of fighting back against the disease that had claimed her father’s life.

Each year of high school, Alyssa recruited a team of friends, who helped her raise money for the American Cancer Society. Her team, Ell’s Belles, would then celebrate their efforts at the Relay For Life event by participating in contests and games, taking in the entertainment, walking laps around the track and simply enjoying the camaraderie. They would also honor cancer survivors and tenderly remember loved ones lost, like Alyssa’s father.

Alyssa joined the Relay For Life event leadership team and stayed involved to the extent she could during her first two years of college. But this year, she returned with a renewed sense of drive and commitment. She explained that over time she had met other young people who had lost fathers to cancer. “It fueled a fire in me,” she said. “I would never wish that experience on anyone. It makes me want to get involved in Relay even more to make some sort of difference.”

But then, the unexpected happened. With the coronavirus onslaught, a gathering of hundreds of people in the Wissahickon High School stadium was no longer feasible. After learning that Penn State had conducted a virtual Relay For Life, Alyssa proposed this idea for the event here: “Even though we’re in this pandemic, cancer hasn’t stopped,” she said. “A virtual event is still a way for people to come together and do something.”

So now, the Relay For Life of the Wissahickon Valley has gone virtual — and Alyssa is the driving force behind it. What will the new event look like? For starters, it will include a virtual 5K, meaning that anyone anywhere can participate at any time on Saturday, May 30, or Sunday, May 31. Walk, run, bike, rollerblade, or just move in whatever way you choose during that weekend, inside or outside. To dedicate your workout to the fight against cancer, register at www.bit.ly/WVRelay-5K with a minimum donation of $10 to the American Cancer Society. The registration form includes information on how to share pictures or videos of yourself engaged in your 5K activity, which makes you eligible to win a prize. Serious competitors can also submit their times, and the top three will be awarded certificates.

The virtual Relay For Life will also be honoring cancer survivors and remembering loved ones lost. Cindi Weiss will be this year’s survivor speaker, sharing her story on May 30 via the Relay For Life of the Wissahickon Valley Facebook page (www.facebook.com/wvrfl/). For several years, she had participated in Relay in support of her mother and sister, who are breast cancer survivors. Last summer, Cindi was diagnosed with a type of leukemia that until recently, had been fatal. In a brief but inspiring speech, she will describe her courageous fight from sickness to health to a life that is even better than the one she had before.

On the evening of May 30, the Relay for Life will also replicate its emotional Luminaria Ceremony via Facebook. Luminaria are available at the following donation amounts: one for $5, two for $8, three for $10, and an unlimited number for $50. Visit bit.ly/WVRelay-LumBags for more information on how to donate luminaria in honor, support or memory of a loved one who has battled cancer.

With approximately 1.8 million people expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the US this year, as Alyssa pointed out, cancer didn’t stop when the coronavirus arrived. Instead, the lives of cancer patients have become infinitely more complicated, and funding for organizations like the American Cancer Society has been strained through the cancellation of events. But you can make a difference by participating in the virtual Relay For Life of the Wissahickon Valley. Contact Morgan Robinson at morgan.robinson@cancer.org with any questions.

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