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Cancer survivors share inspirational stories

USC School of Pharmacy holds its fourth event aimed at getting everyone in on the same conversation

Rock the Pink, USC School of Pharmacy, Tre Leu, Shirley Horn, Reyna Raya, Dr. Stephen Serner, Ghecemy Lopez
Rock the Pink speakers, from left: Tri Leu, Shirley Horn, Reyna Raya, Stephen Sener and Ghecemy Lopez
(Photo/Sean Tom)

Did you rock the pink?

Many supporters did just that by attending the Rock the Pink event promoting breast cancer awareness at the USC School of Pharmacy.

The brainchild of student Reyna Raya, the Oct. 30 event brings together Trojans studying to become health professionals with breast cancer survivors and experts. Their goal: to promote research that aims to prevent and cure the disease responsible for 40,000 deaths in America each year.

Raya, a breast cancer survivor, shared her story of being confronted with the diagnosis when she had just returned to college after raising her two sons. In spite of multiple surgeries and chemotherapy courses, she found a way to complete her undergraduate studies and then proceed on to pharmacy school.

“I used my holiday vacations for surgery,” she said.

This year’s fourth annual event was a tribute to Marilyn Jackson, who died from the disease earlier this year. Jackson had been featured during last year’s event, encouraging others to participate and support research.

In a video clip, she told the audience, “Never think it can’t happen to you … because it can.”

She went on to encourage people to have regular breast screenings because “the earlier you know the better.”

A friend’s memories

Jackson was remembered by Tri Leu, who worked with her at Walgreens, where he was a district manager.

Leu talked about his involvement in community outreach activities for many years, but “it was never personal until Marilyn got sick.”

He discussed how he and other employees rallied around her during her treatments and when she felt very sick. When he heard her say, “I will die of cancer,” during last year’s event, he realized he had to face the possibility of that dreadful day.

Marilyn [Jackson] lost her strength, but she never lost her character.

Tri Leu

“Marilyn lost her hair and her strength, but she never lost her character,” Leu said. “She was special before, after and during her fight.”

In her honor, Walgreens created the Marilyn Jackson Hero Award, which will be presented to an employee each year. 

Shirley Horn, director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and a breast cancer survivor, encouraged those present to consider participating in research as well supporting it.

Noting that 232,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, she said this is “unacceptable, we have to find the cause and the cure.”

Progress comes with research

Stephen Sener, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, said, “Marilyn’s story was one of love; we also want to leave you with one of hope.”

Sener discussed the many advances in the past few years that have greatly improved breast cancer treatment. For example, he mentioned the ability to actually determine who will have a good response to a given chemotherapy treatment, greatly reducing the number of patients receiving drugs that will not help their cancer.

“All of this progress is because of research,” he said.

Ghecemy Lopez, one of Sener’s patients and a survivor of both breast and thyroid cancer, shared her experiences at this year’s event. An advocate for breast cancer awareness, Lopez works to inform the public of the importance of screening exams and research. She also advocates for breast cancer patients, making sure they are represented along with clinicians, scientists and others involved with the breast cancer care, education and research.

“I want to make sure everyone is having the same conversation,” she said.

Lopez, a project specialist in government relations at USC, was recently named the 2014 Grassroots Advocate of the Year by the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

Raya closed the event by encouraging everyone to consider participating in research studies.

“Research made a huge difference in my treatment. If my information or data can help someone else, I’m there,” she said. “You can actually help change someone’s outcome.”


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