One small high school has decided to make a big difference in the lives of women and men impacted by breast cancer. For the past five years, students at Mercy High School in Burlingame, California, organize a Pink Week in October with rallies, speakers and fundraisers dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer. This year students raised $2,180 for BCRF and donated more than 400 inches of hair to Locks of Love.
Breast cancer has impacted the school community in several ways. Esteemed faculty member Carol Galletta, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago and was in remission, recently learned her cancer had returned. Despite her stage IV diagnosis, Carol continues to work, and devote her love and time to her students. This year the school dedicated its Think Pink Rally in her honor.
Emma Colquhoun gave the keynote address at the school’s assembly. The moment was particularly poignant for the 17-year-old senior whose Aunt Yvonne died of breast cancer three days earlier.
We had the opportunity to speak with Emma and learn how her family’s journey led her to fundraise for breast cancer research.
We understand your aunt’s journey inspired you to start fundraising for BCRF. Can you tell us more about her?
My Aunt Yvonne was diagnosed with breast cancer about eight years ago and underwent several surgeries and treatments. She was in remission for about five years, and was then notified her breast cancer was back. She had a mastectomy and treatment and went into remission for less than six months.
She started using an experimental treatment that was incredibly effective for a period of time until her body stopped responding to it. The doctors told us her cancer had spread into her bones and liver, and that she had about two weeks left. We told the doctors that they didn't know Yvonne. Yvonne lived for seven weeks until she passed away on October 6, 2014.
I started fundraising when I heard that my aunt didn't have much longer with us. I really wanted to try to make a difference and help find a cure so no one felt the same way my family and I did when we were told our aunt would be taken from us.
Your Aunt Yvonne passed away three days before you gave the keynote address at your school’s Pink Week assembly. Could you describe what that was like?
Speaking to my peers and fellow classmates was so healing for me. All of my friends and peers were so respectful and supportive of what was happening and how it was affecting me; being able to share Yvonne’s story and give them updates on her up until the very last few days of her life was critical to my coping with losing her.
What has the cancer journey taught you?
Cancer has taught me the true meaning of life: you must live every day like it is your last. It has taught me strength and courage. Yvonne was a role model for both of these qualities. No matter how bad she felt or what news she had been dealt, she always had the best attitude.
Life is precious and it has taken some of the most special people I know. I now have a bucket list of activities that I want to complete before I turn 40. There is so much to see in this world and I want to see it for all who could not.
What inspired you to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation?
Breast cancer research is so important to me because if no one attempts treatments then we won't ever find a cure. When my aunt was on the experimental treatment, it worked for several months until the cancer got too smart and strong. It's important to take risks in the medical field, especially when you're treating something as ruthless as cancer.
I support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation because my family and I experienced the tragedy of what cancer does to so many healthy, vibrant people. I will do anything I can to help find a cure for this terrible disease.
The idea of donating hair can be a scary thought. How did you encourage your peers to participate?
To donate hair, especially when some people have grown it out their entire life, is a very big deal. Hair is personal to the individual, especially when you don't know whom the hair is going to and what their situation is.
I know I helped convince certain members of my student body to donate their hair because of my story about my Aunt Yvonne. Her life was incredibly powerful and beautiful. In fact, a good friend of mine told me that she decided to cut her hair last minute because she was so touched by my story.
What advice would you give to other young adults who want to get involved in fundraising for BCRF?
Do it! You must be involved to make a difference.
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Breast Cancer Research Foundation28 West 44th Street, Suite 609, New York, NY 10036
General Office: 646-497-2600 | Toll Free: firstname.lastname@example.org | BCRF is a 501 (c)(3) | EIN: 13-3727250