Joshua Begley ’10 has participated in every Relay For Life event at Wheaton since enrolling as a freshman. But this year was more personal than ever. When he stepped up to the microphone at Haas Athletic Center to deliver his last opening remarks as a senior, he paid tribute to his grandmother, a cancer survivor.
“My earliest memories of my grandma are of me playing Candyland with her. Years later I found out that she always let me win. I guess, at the time, I just thought I was a kick-ass Candyland player,” he began.
One week after his speech, she would pass away.
As co-chair of Wheaton’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, Begley helped organize Relay For Life, the biggest fund-raising vehicle for the American Cancer Society. The first Relay at Wheaton was held around the Dimple in April 2003. Since then, it has become one of the most popular weekends on campus.
During the event, walkers pay tribute to cancer survivors and lost loved ones. Participants raise money for cancer research, education, advocacy efforts, and patient care services. Over the past eight years, the Wheaton community has raised more than $286,000 in the fight against cancer.
Begley began his work with Relay For Life as a student at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School to honor his grandmother, who had survived esophageal cancer when he was just a toddler. He appreciated all the times he shared with her while growing up: birthday celebrations, holidays and game nights—including those early Candyland games, he said.
Over the years, cancer has crept into the lives of teachers, staff members and even classmates he has known. Some prevailed, others didn’t. All of them and their stories have energized Begley. Cancer advocacy has been a significant aspect of his time at Wheaton. As a sophomore, he became co-chair of Colleges Against Cancer. The organization not only orchestrates Relay For Life, it also raises awareness throughout the year on campus. Volunteers also participate in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Boston.
Begley admits that being part of the event is an emotional roller coaster. “Relay is so hard to describe because it’s so many things. It’s like an overnight slumber party with your friends and a chance to make new friends,” he said. “It brings people together. At the same time, it does deal directly with the painful truth that there are a lot of people affected by cancer. It’s a chance to be grateful for those moments cancer research has given us. Relay allows people to stop, reflect and give back.”
According to Katie Boutilier, a community executive with the American Cancer Society, Begley’s contributions are invaluable. “Josh is a passionate, dedicated volunteer,” she said. “Much of the success with the Relay For Life of Wheaton College over the last four years is a result of Josh’s leadership and dedication to the cause.”
As passionate and dedicated as Begley is, he makes it clear he’s only in it for one reason. “Appreciation for what I’ve had, who I’ve had in my life—those moments I was able to share with my grandmother and others because of cancer research.”
Although he graduated this spring, he plans to stay active in his local chapter of the American Cancer Society and its annual event. Just like game night, his life would feel incomplete without it. “There’s no way I’d ever miss a Relay,” he said.