Fighting cancer on many fronts

PULLMAN – What do earnest, highly competitive graduate students do in their spare time? For some in the School of Molecular Biosciences (SMB), kicking back means organizing a fun — and highly competitive — Relay for Life team.
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event. It brings in more than 40 percent of the organization’s annual income.
With money raised from bake sales, donations and an online auction, the Mighty, Mighty Molecular Bioscientists team will compete in the Pullman relay Sept. 29-30 at WSU’s Mooberry Track.
“A large percentage of the team already works in cancer research on a day-to-day basis — and this is a different way to support it,” said graduate student Sara Belchik. “I have lost family members to cancer and that is a very strong motivator.”  (Click the following to audio link hear comments from Belchik and others.)

“The American Cancer Society funds projects and grants that other funding agencies may not,” said Mike Parra, post-doctoral research fellow and team captain. “They know sometimes the crazy ideas are the ones that might work out the best.”

In their fourth year of competition, the grad students and research techs are determined to beat their 2006 pledge of more than $5,000. Of 55 teams competing, the bioscientists trailed only the corporate team from Schweitzer Engineering and the community-based Tara’s Team.

Though not officially sponsored by the school, the team receives support from everyone who works there, said Parra. Especially popular is the online “silent auction” — open only to faculty, staff and students in the SMB. It is run much like the bidding on eBay, said Belchik.

“Last year an enchilada casserole went for $110!” she said.

For 2007, the team is most excited about a faculty member’s donation of a dogsled ride. Other donations include a pheasant hunt, house cleaning, bread-of-the-month, jewelry, artwork, fresh salmon and home-cooked meals.
The team also “recycles” door prizes it wins at the relay — adding them to the auction to help raise more money.
“In 2005, we won a plane ride over the Palouse as a door prize,” said Belchik. “It went back into the silent auction and we worked with the owner to turn it into a plane ride for three people. He was more than willing to give more for a good cause.”
Weekly bake sales for departmental seminars add to the pledge fund. Brett Johnson, research technician, and Wendy Smith, graduate student, collaborate to write letters soliciting gifts from local
businesses. Donation jars are placed at Dissmore’s supermarket and other Pullman locations.
For more information or to donate to the Mighty, Mighty Molecular Bioscientists team, visit
To donate goods or services to the silent auction, contact Wendy Smith at 509-288-0203 or