We are happy to announce the winner of the Spring 2017 Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship: Somer Greene.
Somer is a survivor of Hereditary Gastric Carcinoma, which is a form of stomach cancer that is passed along genetically through a mutation of the CDH1 gene. While not everyone with the mutation develops cancer, those who have it also might have a higher chance of developing the disease.
Somer was diagnosed in March 2011, and a month later, in an attempt to fight the disease, she underwent a total gastrectomy – that is, complete removal of her stomach – in addition to having her gallbladder and a portion of her esophagus removed. “Recovering from the surgery, and learning to live without a stomach was extremely difficult,” Somer said in her video essay submission for the scholarship, “but with the help of my father, it was possible.”
“My father is my hero,” Somer continues in her essay. “He is my strength, my encouragement, and my role model.” He was all of these things, it turns out, at the same time as he was fighting the very same hereditary cancer that Somer had been diagnosed with.
Somer’s father was diagnosed himself more than a year earlier, in January 2010. That April of 2011, Somer began the slow recovery process from her surgery, and she relied a lot on her father, Lt. Bryan Greene, to help her. “His battle with cancer inspired me to fight mine,” Somer recalls. “However, as I was healing from surgery, he was dying.”
Just a little more than a month after Somer’s surgery, her father passed away. “Gastric Cancer causes 800,000 deaths worldwide every year, and this statistic now includes the death of my amazing father,” Somer reports in her essay, “but because of my amazing father this statistic will never include me.”
Now, six years later, Somer is determined to remember her own and her father’s experiences with cancer, but she is also just as determined not to let it define her. “It would be easy to say that cancer was the single-most life-changing moment of my life,” she says, “but that would be surrendering so much of my power to one illness.”
Rather than relying on one particular event in her life, Somer has dedicated herself to her community in an attempt to alleviate pain, suffering, and disadvantage in those she sees around her. She volunteers her time with other students to improve the lives of others, and she has committed herself to building sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships based on service to others. These are passions she had long before her own cancer.
Nonetheless, Somer’s experience with cancer undoubtedly has had an effect on her. It may not be the source of her passion for helping others, but during her own experience, she was able to witness the long-suffering love and devotion of her father, who even in the last months of his own life dedicated himself to helping Somer through her surgery and early stages of recovery.
“I learned through cancer to remain unapologetic in my pursuit of the passions that breath life into the most authentic parts of myself, parts that will never be touched by illness, pain, or loss.” The passions that Somer pursues are social justice and community empowerment, which she approaches from both academic study and active involvement as a community volunteer.
In fact, Somer’s passion has driven her to craft her own area of study – Community Development and Media Communications – which incorporates community service into a curriculum of communications studies to bring the two together. “Education is a privilege,” Somer states, “but it should not distance us from our communities. Rather it should inform how we engage with those surroundings, those communities, with meaning and intention.”
Somer looks at her survivorship not only as a privilege, but as a responsibility. For her, the idea of being a survivor is not only to continue living her own life, but to help others survive their own ordeals as well. This is the lesson her father taught her as he helped her even while fighting for his own life. In some respects, it is Somer’s way of showing that her cancer may have been hereditary, but so was her ability to survive it. Now, she wants to pass that ability to survive on to others, as well.
As she begins her graduate studies in England, Somer is grateful of the opportunity that this scholarship provides and its meaning for her. “The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship is important to me because of the larger meaning of what this award represents: a celebration that there is life after cancer – a life that can salute the strength within me and others while rejoicing in the beauty of being a survivor.”
The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is encouraged by the passion with which Somer is continuing to pursue her already impressive accomplishments. We are happy to present this scholarship to her for the Spring 2017 semester.
Applications for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship for Fall 2017 are now open. If you have had cancer, or have seen a loved one go through a battle with cancer, submit your essay today and receive a chance to win $4,000 toward your college education. The deadline for the Fall 2017 semester is March 31, 2017.