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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Student organization raises awareness for childhood cancer, awards scholarship

Photo by Provided

After surviving cancer themselves, students seek to assist others who have also been effected by the disease.

Left to right: Fharid Reyes, Megan O’Dell, Zach Bach, and Jenny Cuarderes

Joining in the endeavor to raise awareness of childhood cancer in the United States, the Texas A&M chapter of the American Childhood Cancer Organization impacts the lives of Aggies who have been directly affected by the disease by raising money for and awarding annual scholarships.


According to ACCO, approximately 15,780 children in the country are diagnosed with cancer between the ages of birth and 19 years old. Additionally, 80 percent of the childhood cancer survivors have long term health issues during their lifetime. Brought to the university by former student Amber Masso in 2011, A&M is the first and only collegiate extension of the national faction and raises awareness about childhood cancer in the Bryan-College Station area.


The Ross Maxwell Memorial Scholarship is awarded by the organization to two students each year in honor of Ross Maxwell, class of ‘13 who died his senior year of medulloblastoma, more commonly known as brain cancer.


Allied health senior and ACCO scholarship chair Alexandra Speersaid the potential recipients apply in the spring and the scholarships, one for $1,000 and one for $500, are both awarded in the fall.


“ACCO here at A&M created a scholarship in [Maxwell’s] honor with the help of his family,” Speer said. “And it is awarded to Aggies that have been directly affected by pediatric cancer. So either they themselves are a survivor or are still currently battling, or they have a sibling that had cancer, so either they lost their battle or are still fighting, or a survivor.”


With a committee based foundation, the organization includes scholarship, fundraising, advocacy and outreach committees that contribute in different ways. In addition to donations and T-shirt sales, Speer said the main event, the PJammin 2.5/5K, is geared toward children with multiple stations including jump rope and hopscotch.


“They [the committee] are in charge of reaching out in our community towards the elementary schools, and raising awareness of pediatric cancer and early detection for parents as well as one of our big things … we host a fun run,” Speer said. “It’s called PJammin —  that’s something our national organization does and we have brought here to A&M. And it’s a [2.5/5K] that you do in your pajamas, because kids that are in the hospital getting chemo are always hanging out in their pajamas, so that’s our little tribute to them.”


Professor in the Mays Business School and faculty advisor for ACCO Victoria Buenger has been the advisor since the start of the organization on A&M’s campus. She said her passion of raising awareness of childhood cancer resulted after her five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2002 and lost her battle to cancer in 2009.


“This organization has really taken a leadership role of partnering and working with other organizations,” Buenger said, “They do bone marrow drives for Be the Match, and they volunteer, there is another fun run coming up that is actually in memory of my daugher and volunteer for that … As they learned more and more about childhood cancer and the after effects, they have grown so mature in their approach to being part of the solution.”


Cassidy Weeks, biomedical science sophomore and ACCO president, said when they hear of an Aggie student battling cancer, they send gift baskets in an effort to show the person they are not alone in their fight.


“We work with the fellow schools around this area to make sure that the kids are educated in symptoms of cancer and what to look for, but then also how to deal with people going through that,” Weeks said. “So I think a big part of it is education but also just for everyone in the community to know that we’re here. We have a lot of resources through our national branch that we can make available to people … that they know that they have someone here for them I think is the biggest thing.”


Allied health senior and ACCO treasurer Megan O’Dell is a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer survivor and said she felt welcomed and connected to the organization, where two survivors currently serve as officers and six survivors are members.


“I finished chemo May of senior year, right before high school graduation. So right when I started college, I wanted a group that…understood my journey and kind of had an idea of what cancer’s about,” O’Dell said. “I decided I’d join ACCO just because they more of a small organization, very personable, and I just learned a lot. I met a lot of people who were survivors.”


During a cancerous battle, O’Dell said positivity is a crucial asset as it is a learning experience that can make you a better person.


“It’s great to meet other people who have gone through the same thing, it’s great to help kids in the community who have been affected by childhood cancer because not a lot of people think about it,” O’Dell said. “You think of breast cancer, or lung cancer, or leukemia, but childhood cancer as a whole doesn’t get enough attention. I didn’t think about childhood cancer before I was diagnosed with cancer.”


One of the recipients for the 2015 scholarship, Lauren Brown, was a full time student battling stage four Ewing’s Sarcoma at the time when she was chosen for the award. This year, she was honored in Silver Taps for the month February and her name will be called at Aggie Muster.
 “Through meeting her through the scholarship, we got to follow her story and get to know her, kind of follow journey. And she unfortunately lost her battle in December,” Speer said. “There are more students here at A&M that are sitting next to you in class that maybe are going through things that you have absolutely no idea … they could be getting chemo on the weekend and you may not even know, like she was. So getting to meet those people and seeing how hard they’re fighting and not giving up is really inspirational.”

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