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March 10, 2013

Students donate tissue for cancer research

IUK professor encourages students to make a difference

— Six Indiana University Kokomo students recently donated samples of their breast tissue to advance cancer research.

The students are in professor Jessica Henderson’s civic engagement and breast cancer class.

Henderson said she wanted to show her students they don’t need to wait to earn a degree to make a difference in the world.

While six students donated tissue samples, others provided support and encouragement to donors and assisted clinic staff in sample collection.

The students’ samples went to a tissue bank in Indianapolis – the only one in the country to study healthy breast tissue.

Student Pam Plain said making the donation was “one of the most uplifting things I’ve done in my life.”

“I have talked about my donation, and the need for donations, with friends and family members,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to open up a dialogue about a topic many people don’t want to talk about. This is something an average person can do to contribute.”

Henderson said being able to study healthy breast tissue is vital. To prevent breast cancer, researchers need to know what normal looks like.

The clinic ships its samples to researchers all over the world.

Students said making a donation wasn’t as scary as it sounds. The process is similar to a biopsy, with a doctor drawing three core samples of breast tissue from each donor.

“Other than the blood draw, it was pain free,” student Alexandria Jewell said.

Shanique Gilliam gave tissue after learning there is a pressing need for samples from women of varied backgrounds. She said it was important for her, as a black woman, to participate.

Sandra Beech donated in honor of her grandmother, who died of breast cancer.

As one out of every eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly everyone knows someone who has been affected by it, she said.

“It’s just really nice being part of something that hits home for so many people,” she said. “It’s doing something about it, not just talking about it.”

Henderson said she thinks her students caught the “advocacy bug” that day and will likely seek opportunities to help their communities in the future.

The students are already forming an advocacy club on campus and have plans to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in April.

“You don’t have to be a scientist or doctor to make a contribution to the eradication of breast cancer,” Henderson said. “Every voice, every person counts.”

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