Relay for Life Begins on the Boulevard

April 8, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Participants sign in for this year's Relay For Life on the Boulevard. (PHOTO BY THOMAS FAUST / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Participants sign in for this year's Relay For Life on the Boulevard. (PHOTO BY THOMAS FAUST / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

By Amanda Mervine

SMU hosted its seventh annual Relay for Life walkathon to benefit the American Cancer Society Friday night.

Students walked through the night, from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., symbolizing the fact that cancer never sleeps.

So far SMU’s Relay for Life has raised over $50,000 to benefit ACS. Over 830 students, faculty and staff have registered to participate in the philanthropic event.

“Students have been planning this event year round and we are finally excited to see it materialize,” said this year’s Relay for Life Event Chair Liz Sullivan.

Over the past six years SMU’s Relay for Life event has helped raise nearly $600,000 to benefit ACS. Sullivan says Friday night’s goal is to reach $100,000.

For more information or to make a donation, visit the Relay for Life website.

Blood Drive For a Friend

February 17, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Samantha Cangelosi

Eighteen-year-old Makenna Loerwald discovered a lump in her chest in August of 2009. After many doctor appointments and several tests, doctors declared the lump as a cancerous tumor.

“The tumor before the chemo started was destroying my second rib and pressing on my lung,” said Loerwald.

The news was hard for her family and friends to hear, especially for her best-friend and Southern Methodist University sophomore Samantha Matthews.

“When my mom told me about Makenna, it definitely hit me hard.  It’s one of those things that you can’t really wrap your mind around,” said Matthews.

Growing up as neighbors, Matthews and her sister became best friends with McKenna. All three girls attended the same private elementary school together where their friendship grew.

“She lives down the street from us. She’s basically family,” said Matthews.

Loerwald, a senior at Denton High School, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma last November and must regularly undergo blood treatments.

To help her friend’s battle with cancer, Matthews organized a blood drive on campus Tuesday to collect blood for MaKenna’s treatments.

“[Makenna] is going through the hardest time in her life that most of us never even have to think about doing,” said Matthews. “I can’t take the pain away, so this is one thing I can do just to help make her journey a little bit easier.”

From 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Carter Blood Care bus was parked by the flagpole and welcomed students and adults who wanted to help support Makenna and others awaiting blood treatments.

Some were veteran donors while others were new to contribute.

“I donate whenever I can,” says SMU freshman Emily Reagan. “It’s good for the community.”

The blood drive was a success- collecting a total of 32 pints of blood from 30 campus donors. At clinics around the area, Makenna’s family friends, teachers and peers donated another 21 pints of blood.

Makenna, who has gone through four blood transfusions since December, may require more before her next surgery.  These transfusions consist of two units of blood given over a four-hour time period.

“Blood transfusions are a way to help cancer patients feel better after their treatments,” Makenna says. “The chemo defeats your immune system and energy level.”

The donated blood that was collected will act as “replacement credit” McKenna won’t have to pay toward future transfusions.

Donating is a fast and simple way to connect with those who are suffering. The entire process takes less than an hour and collects a unit of blood (about one pint), but the small amount of blood one gives can save someone in the future.

“A little act on my part can make a big difference to someone else,” said SMU freshman Alex Mezey.

Although Makenna is unknown to many at SMU, her story has touched several lives.

“You kind of feel like you have a specific connection when it’s for a person, even if you don’t know them,” said SMU junior Samantha Verrill.

Makenna has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy thus far, causing her tumor to shrink by about 70 percent. She is scheduled for surgery next week to remove the last of the tumor and one of her ribs.

“Her attitude is absolutely amazing,” said Matthews. “As much as she’s going through, she still has a smile on her face and brings so much joy into everyone around her, reminding us all to make the best of everything.”

To learn more about Makenna and her journey visit

Young Survivors Feel the Effects of Cancer

February 3, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Kathryn Sharkey

The phone rings. It’s senior Southern Methodist University student Emily Epstein’s sister. Emily holds her breath. Could this be the call she’s been dreading?

Emily’s sister Jessica was 23-years-old when she was diagnosed with an abnormal form of stage three melanoma. One year later, after surviving the melanoma and lymphoma that followed, she’s in remission, but she and her family still feel the effects of cancer.

“Every time I get a call now, I hold my breath because I worry it’s her telling me it’s come back,” Epstein said.

When it comes to cancer, “it’s so much more common than people know, because I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t been affected by it in some way or another,” said Epstein.

According to the National Cancer Institute, close to 65,600 people between the ages of 15 and 39 were diagnosed with cancer in 2005. NCI states that only homicide, suicide, and unintentional injury claim more lives than cancer. The most common tumors for that age group are breast cancer, lymphoma, germ cell cancer, thyroid carcinoma, sarcoma, cervical carcinoma, leukemia, colorectal cancer, and central nervous system tumors, according to a 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Germ cell cancer includes testicular and ovarian tumors. Sarcoma is cancer of the bone and soft tissue.

Emily and Jessica’s mother took the diagnosis especially hard.

“My mom, sister and I always went to the tanning bed together probably a couple times per week so we all felt personally responsible,” said Epstein.

Emily went with her sister for some of her chemotherapy treatments, including her treatment on Christmas day because it was crucial she didn’t miss a treatment.

She saw many people at the treatment center, but no one quite like her sister.

“The nurses called her the baby because she was the youngest one there,” Epstein said.

The American Cancer Society states that about 77 percent of all cancers are diagnosed in people of age 55 or older.

However, young people are not immune. The NCI says that although leukemia, lymphoma, and central nervous system tumors are more common in those in the younger range of 15 to 39 years old, cervical, colorectal, and particularly breast cancer actually increase in frequency in those between 20 and 39 years old.

Young people have a preconceived notion that nothing harmful will happen to them and that they are invincible, when the reality is that it could happen, said a 21-year-old senior SMU student, studying psychology, sociology, and Spanish. The student did not want her name published for personal reasons.

Young people also face many problems with cancer that older patients do not.

In 2005 to 2006, NCI in a partnership with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, conducted a review of cancer treatment in adolescents and young adults (AYA) to find any needed improvements. The study found that the progress in that area of oncology has suffered because the focus on cancer research and treatment is on older patients.

NCI also states that compared with younger and older age groups, AYAs have experienced little or no improvement in cancer survival rates in more than two decades.

The reasons? NCI says that it may be because AYAs have the highest uninsured rate in the country as well as the medical community’s struggle to recognize and treat cancer in that population. There is a problem with delayed diagnosis, inadequate treatment practices and settings, poor understanding of how the cancer shows up and attacks them, inconsistent treatment and follow-up guidelines, and little call for prevention or early detection methods. In addition to that, there are few clinical trials designed for younger patients and there is low participation in those that do exist. As a result, there is little data gathered to help doctors effectively treat these patients.

As much as cancer is characterized as an older disease, there are many young patients fighting cancer and struggling with the impact it has on their lives.

The 21-year-old psychology, sociology and Spanish student was just ten years old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

She remembers when her parents had to tell her about her diagnosis.

“They came to my hospital room, brought my favorite stuffed animal, a lollipop, fruit roll ups, and many other sugary snacks to prevent me from worrying,” she said.

She was too young to fully grasp what was happening to her and said she just thought she was different, not suffering from a fatal illness.

She is currently cancer free and said the main thing she has taken away from her experience is not to take health or life for granted.

“My parents are always telling me that life is too short, take in everyday that we are living and seize the moment,” she said. “I’m not a victim of cancer but I am a survivor of cancer. And that only makes me stronger and makes me see things more clearly about life in general.”