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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Sonoma chapter.

Every year, 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide. Out of these, 4 million die prematurely, ages 30 to 69. My dad was one of them.

In 2011, my dad lost his battle to glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most malignant of the glial tumors. He survived a year and a half after diagnosis in November 2009, much longer than most GBM patients.

I cannot describe the feeling of learning at 13 years old that my favorite person was not going to live long enough to see me graduate from high school, to see him get continuously sicker to the point of being unable to talk or walk. It was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through, and knowing that others are experiencing the same feelings of hurt makes the pain even worse.

7.6 million people. That means millions more family members, friends, and loved ones who carry loss and heartache with them every day for the rest of their lives.

We could break. We could shut down and cry and hate the world, and our feelings would be valid. But we choose not to. We choose to be stronger, to fight in honor and memory of those who no longer can, to work towards a better future.

Relay for Life is an example of this fighting. Communities across the world come together raise money for the American Cancer Society every year since the first walk in 1985, having since raised over $5 billion. Sonoma State University has hosted its own walk for seven years now.

You would think that a cancer walk would be a solemn event, but Relay for Life is quite the opposite. It is as much of a celebration of life as it is remembering and honoring loved ones. It is a true symbol of hope, of triumph, of coming together in an effort to beat a disease that has caused so much pain in this world.

The presence of luminaria bags is one of the most powerful aspects of Relay for Life. Participants have the opportunity to decorate a bag in honor of someone who has fought or is fighting cancer, or in memory of someone who has passed. These bags are then placed around the event so that participants are surrounded by stories of both hope and loss as they walk. As a volunteer, I had the privilege of working a shift at the luminaria booth, during which I admittedly read every bag I set out. From full stories to a simple name, every bag represented individuals who refused to be broken by this disease, but instead came out in determination and support of the American Cancer Society. It was truly inspiring.

Next month will mark the five year anniversary of losing my best friend. In five years, I have seen and felt more pain than I would ever wish on anyone in a lifetime. But it is events like Relay for Life, and organizations such as the American Cancer Society, that give me hope that we will find a way to overcome this horrible disease. And in the meantime, we have each other.

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