UNM student Meghan Maes said the American Cancer Society helped her and her family cope with her liver cancer.

Maes, who is the event chair for Relay for Life of UNM and president of the UNM chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC), had emergency surgery and four rounds of chemotherapy to treat liver cancer when she was an infant. She said she was 5 months old when she was diagnosed and less than 1 year old when she completed treatment.

“I’m a cancer survivor myself and I know how much the American Cancer Society has helped me,” she said. “Now that I’m involved in Relay (for Life), I can really see how it affects people and their whole family.”

The American Cancer Society is an organization that promotes cancer awareness, offers services for cancer patients and their families, such as financial assistance and informational support, and assists with cancer research. Relay for Life is a community walk to raise money for the ACS.

“The American Cancer Society not only gives scholarships, but they also have a lot of research money, and since UNM is a really big cancer research center, a lot of money comes back to UNM for cancer research,” she said. “It really goes back into the community.”

Maes said she has a genetic growth syndrome, which is the reason she had cancer. She said she has had kidney problems since she became ill, but that the cancer was more difficult to deal with psychologically than physically. She said participating in Camp Enchantment, a camp hosted by ACS to help cancer patients and family members, taught her to cope with her cancer and encouraged her to become a counselor at the camp.

“A lot of it is a psychological challenge — worrying about cancer coming back,” she said. “Once I went to Camp Enchantment, I met a whole bunch of other kids who had cancer. It really helped me open up and accept some of the things I have to struggle with on a daily basis.”

Colleges Against Cancer Publicity Chair Josh Dolin said CAC is hosting a donation-based chile cook-off today to raise awareness about the Relay for Life event at UNM. He said the suggested donation for the cook-off is $4 per student and that the organization will continue to host events up until Relay for Life, which is an all-night event set for April 12 and 13 on Johnson field.

“It’s supposed to symbolize that cancer never sleeps,” he said. “So that’s why you have an overnight event.”

Dolin said that at the cook-off, students can taste a variety of chile dishes and register teams for Relay for Life. He said the organization raised about $12,000 for the ACS at Relay for Life last year and hopes to raise $20,000 this year; so far it has raised about $100.

“Students can sample different kinds of chile dishes; green chile, red chile, stews, enchiladas,” he said.

Dolin said that although the CAC is raising money for Relay for Life, students who register are responsible for raising money as well.

“It’s kind of up to students to raise money,” he said. “If they want to hold events to raise money, they can, or they can send out emails to relatives or friends asking for donations.”

Maes said many restaurants have donated food for the cook-off, including Garcia’s Kitchen, Peofilils, Chef Jim White Catering and Walker’s Popcorn. She said some of the food donated includes green chile enchiladas, salsa, red and green chile stew, posole and chips and queso.

“We decided to have a chile cook-off because we’re in New Mexico and people here love food and chile,” she said. “Everyone can taste all the chile that they want to.”

Maes said businesses including Boba Tea Company, Kelly’s Pub, Il Vicino, Chillz, Papa Murphy’s and Los Compadres donated gift cards and the Great Harvest Bread Company donated a bread basket to be given as raffle prizes at the cook-off. She said she hopes students participate and help support the fight against cancer.

“Cancer is something that everyone encounters at some point in their life, whether it’s them or someone they know,” she said. “There’s strength in numbers and it could really bring the entire community together if people get involved.”