Leaders of a new Yale undergraduate organization shared their experiences with cancer and appealed to students to join their fight against the disease at a kick-off rally Tuesday night at Harkness Hall.

Student organizers of Yale’s Colleges Against Cancer chapter joined local representatives of the American Cancer Society in a rally where they detailed their plans for a “Relay for Life” at Yale. The relay, scheduled for this April, is a signature event of the American Cancer Society and is intended to raise awareness and money for cancer research, Stephanie Smith ’07, one of YCAC’s founders, said.

Each of the group’s four leaders — Smith, Caroline Edsall ’06, Simba Marekera ’07 and Marcus Haymon ’05 — have had family members or friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. Marekera, whose father died of the disease four years ago, said at the meeting that 17 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year.

“I just imagined 17 million more families going through the same pain my family went through,” he said.

The group plans to focus on the Relay for Life this year, Smith said. Organizers said Yale’s relay will take place at the University’s outdoor track where teams of eight to 20 students, each sponsored by family and friends, will take turns walking around the track over an 18-hour period, with at least one team member walking at all times.

Organizers said they hope that the enthusiasm the relay generates will allow them to expand to other activities in the future.

For the relay to be a success, organizers said they will have to reach out to students. Tyler Theofilos ’08, who did not attend the meeting, said he might be interested in getting involved.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Theofilos said. “It raises money and awareness, and that’s what you need.”

Organizers, who had sent out e-mail notices and set up tables at dining hall entrances in the weeks leading up to the rally, said they were encouraged by the turnout Tuesday evening.

“I think we were all pleasantly surprised — To have over 70 people for the first rally in our first year of doing this is phenomenal,” Haymon said.

Heather Orrico ’07 attended the meeting and signed up to be a team captain and sub-committee chair for the relay.

“I thought it was really informative, and I think [the relay] is going to be a great thing for Yale,” she said.

Yale Colleges Against Cancer is a local chapter of a group that is coordinated nationally by the American Cancer Society. It registered as an undergraduate organization this fall. The group’s leadership came together over the summer after Edsall, Smith and Marekera each sent separate e-mails to the Southern Connecticut regional office of the American Cancer Society to express interest in starting a chapter at Yale.

David Hirx, a local American Cancer Society representative, said the organization often depends on college students to jump-start initiatives like this one.

“With college students having the amount of drive and dedication that they do, it’s just a natural pairing,” he said.

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