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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Focusing on the face of student cancer

Ashley Halstead, a sophomore at UW-Madison, was up early two weeks ago chalking. Members of Colleges Against Cancer drew chalk lines 25 feet from several major campus buildings for National Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November. This is the distance one must be from a university building to be smoking a cigarette. Halstead dusted the pink chalk off on her jeans, avoiding her new t-shirt, which proudly declared I Put Out - oCigarettes."" After a long day of chalking and classes, Halstead went to study at College Library. She sat at a desk in the café, stretched and rolled up her sleeves. 


It is only then the scar on her right arm became visible. It is from one of the nine surgeries she had at age 11, to remove plexiform fybrohisteocyctic, a rare kind of malignant tumor that affects the extremities of the body. According to Halstead, she was the first patient to ever have this kind of cancer be completely surgically removed.  


""The hardest thing wasn't for me,"" Halstead said. ""It was harder for my family and everyone. It affects everyone around you."" 


Halstead's case was rare, but overall, cancer rates are on the rise. In the 2007 report, Cancer Facts and Figures by the American Cancer Society, it was estimated that more than 1.4 million new patients in the United States would be diagnosed with various types of cancer throughout 2007. Approximately 28,130 of these would occur in Wisconsin. 


Colleges Against Cancer is a group at UW-Madison trying to combat these rising numbers with prevention and awareness. According to the group's website, it is a student organization sponsored by the American Cancer Society. It was started nationally in 2001, and UW-Madison's chapter was founded in 2003. There are now 372 chapters nation-wide. Halstead said the group's goals are providing support for and celebrating survivors, and finding a cure to this deadly disease.  

In its close cooperation with the American Cancer Society, Colleges Against Cancer organizes the annual Relay For Life in Madison. According to Dwan Johnson, the community relations coordinator for the American Cancer Society and Colleges Against Cancer, last year's relay raised over $143,000.  


""Honestly, UW-Madison is one of the top ranked [schools] in the division,"" Johnson said. ""They are ranked No. 1 for online fundraising in the division."" 

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This year the relay will be at the Shell April 11 and 12. The American Cancer Society is also organizing a ""Paint the Town Purple"" event. According to Johnson, ""Paint the Town Purple"" is an awareness event used to generate interest in the upcoming Relay For Life.  


""It's basically painting the town purple and getting a lot of people in purple out there so then we're really able to promote Relay For Life,"" Johnson said.  

She speculated a date of Feb. 28 for ""Paint the Town Purple,"" but said more details would become available as the Relay approaches.  


Although the Relay is by far the biggest event Colleges Against Cancer hosts in Madison, they organize smaller activities throughout the year. Many of these relate to specific cancers, such as October's Breast Cancer Awareness activities, which used ""Bob the Boob,"" a fake breast used to teach people how to detect breast cancer.  


November was Lung Cancer Awareness month and Colleges Against Cancer recognized it by peppering Bascom Hill with ""What You Could Do With a Dollar"" statements, acknowledging the dollar tax increase for cigarettes. These suggestions ranged from eating something at McDonald's, buying 10 packs of Ramen or paying for a tenth of the group's ""I Put Out - oCigarettes"" T-shirt.  


The group also hosted a karaoke night in November called ""Sing at the Top of Your Lungs!"" at Union South.  


""It was really fun,"" Jarrett Wiesolek, a UW-Madison sophomore, said. ""Anytime I get to sing 'Come on Eileen' and 'A Moment Like This' in the same night, is a good night. And it was for a good cause, which makes it even better."" 


The participants weren't the only ones having a good time. Kari Liotta, a UW-Madison senior and co-president of Colleges Against Cancer, is very involved with the activities the group sponsors.  


""I fell in love with the mission and the spirit of the organization. [Colleges Against Cancer] has made a huge difference in my college experience,"" Liotta said. ""Most of my time in college has been consumed with the fight against cancer. It has given me direction in my life. I can't imagine doing anything else.""  


Liotta is also the survivorship chair for the group; she fought and beat thyroid cancer when she was 16.  


""Cancer is the best [and] worst thing that has ever happened to me,"" Liotta said. ""Because of it, I was able to learn at a young age the fragility of life. No one is invincible.""  


Groups like Colleges Against Cancer help patients when battling the disease, dealing with fears of relapse and becoming aware of the increased risks for other medical disorders. Danielle Berkovitz, a UW-Madison senior and survivor of Hodgkin's disease, has found Colleges Against Cancer fundamental in her coping with the risk factors.  


""I am taking an oncology class this semester and we talk about the increased risks of heart disease and infertility. It's depressing to have it thrown in your face like that,"" Berkovitz said. ""I beat it once; I don't want to fight it again. My survivorship should be celebrated and that is what [Colleges Against Cancer] does."" 


While Colleges Against Cancer works hard to help victims cope with the disease, prevention is also a key goal. According to Peter Balistrieri, the media relations representative for the Wisconsin chapter of the American Cancer Society, the three best ways to prevent cancer are eating healthy, maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking.  


""It's a lifestyle choice,"" Balistrieri said. ""Only about 8 percent of Americans know that cancer can come from being overweight or obese. Eighty-nine or 90 percent of all lung cancer cases are due to smoking. Lifestyle is one of the main contributors to getting cancer."" 


Colleges Against Cancer is not the only way UW-Madison is fighting cancer. Howard Bailey, the associate director for Clinical Research at the UW Comprehensive Cancer Center, works with the campus community and many of his colleagues in efforts to discover better treatments for cancer patients. 


""When it comes to the treatment of cancer, we're actually one of the largest groups or places in the country for studying new treatments and types of cancer,"" Bailey said. He agrees with Balistrieri when it comes to prevention.  


""The choices we make when we're 19 definitely affect our risks of getting cancer both when we're 20, and when we're 40 or 60

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