Tonight, close to 500 Bowdoin students will be spending the night at Farley Field House participating in Bowdoin's fourth annual Relay for Life.

"The idea is to celebrate, remember, and fight back against cancer," said student coordinator Julia Seltzer '09.

So far, 53 teams have managed to raise upward of $35,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS). Seltzer's goal is $50,000; with two more months to go before the fund raising deadline, it is still very much in reach.

This year's turnout will be higher than ever; Seltzer said it is the first time the Relay has attracted more than 400 students.

"It's depressing to think about, but almost everyone I know has been touched by cancer in some way," said participant Megan McFarland '11. "The money that I have raised has all been in honor of my grandfather who is currently fighting his cancer and in honor of all those who are fighting the same fight."

"It's a great cause, but it's also a really fun night," said Seltzer.

From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., activities ranging from a cappella performances to a hypnotist to a ping-pong tournament will keep participants alert. Inflatable jousting games, a Velcro wall, a poker tournament, a pie-eating contest, and an all-night movie corner are also on the agenda.

Relay for Life is Bowdoin's biggest fundraiser, said volunteer organizer Ashley Fischer '09. With the economy in poor shape, though, Seltzer said, "We want people to feel comfortable donating small amounts."

"A little goes a long way," said fellow volunteer Katherine Finnegan '09.

The three previous Relays have raised a combined $135,000 for the ACS.

Kiel McQueen '08 organized Bowdoin's first Relay for Life in 2006 as Baxter's community service representative. After serving on the entertainment subcommittee her sophomore year, Seltzer was asked to chair the group last year.

"It's definitely a cause that's really important to me," Seltzer said. "As long as cancer exists, I hope Bowdoin will have a Relay for Life."

After graduation, said Seltzer, "I definitely want to continue to work to support the work the ACS does."

Relay for Life was started in 1985 by a Seattle cancer surgeon, whose first event lasted 24 hours and raised around $6,000. The Relay has since been adopted as the flagship event of the ACS. It is offered in all 50 states, as well as internationally, and has raised billions.

The American Cancer Society, founded in 1912, fights cancer on four fronts, said Maine Director of Communications Sue Clifford: research, education, advocacy, and patient service programs.

"The ACS is the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research in the world," said Clifford, "because we're passionate about finding a cure."

Of the researchers the ACS has funded, 42 have won Nobel prizes. The ACS also sponsors fellowships for students looking to study at facilities like the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

Advances in cancer research benefit patients everywhere, but the Bowdoin Relay will especially benefit the local community. In most states, heart disease is the number-one killer; but in Maine, cancer is.

Clifford said she thinks Maine's rural nature and insurance troubles make access to treatment harder. More than 8,000 people in Maine were diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and 3,500 diagnosed Maine patients die every year. Still, the ACS and others are making progress.

"In Maine this year we're hoping to raise $1.5 million through events like the one at Bowdoin College," said Clifford. There are 22 other scheduled Maine Relays for Life this year, four of which are college events.

"The quality of life for cancer patients, here in Maine and around the world, is being dramatically improved thanks to the Relay for Life," said Clifford.

As it is very difficult to hold on to federal funding, local fundraisers are all the more important.

"Science is going to happen, but it doesn't happen without funding," added Clifford.

Seltzer said she gets frequent positive feedback on the Relay for Life.

"I'll get really heartfelt messages from survivors," she said. "The ACS is a real beacon of hope for a lot of people."

"My grandmother actually passed away from lung cancer this past fall, so fund raising became personal for me," said Rebecca Levin '12. "I've been surprised with the generosity of my family and friends and think this event definitely brings people together in a way to help people cope with the far reaching consequences of cancer, because so many people have been affected by cancer."

"The Relay for Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those with cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated," Clifford said.

"People just genuinely really care about it," said Seltzer. "It actually is saving lives. It's real, and they care."