Students raise cancer awareness

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Photo courtesy of Tanvi Rao ('22)

Cancer Together is a youth-led organization founded by Tanvi Rao (‘22) and Priya Shah (‘22) over summer 2020 with a mission to build a community for youth to discuss and learn about the impacts of cancer. Rao and Shah have amassed a global team of students and over 1,100 followers on Instagram.

By Amber de Saint-Exupéry, The American School in London

As a COVID-19 stricken summer left many students with more relaxed schedules, some used the extra time to raise awareness on issues of importance to them.

In just three months, Tanvi Rao (’22) and Priya Shah (’22) founded Cancer Together, an organization centered around creating a community for youth to learn and discuss the impacts of cancer. From building a global team of student volunteers to launching their own podcast featuring medical experts, Rao and Shah said they are striving to make a difference in our global community. 

Before launching Cancer Together, Rao and Shah said personal experiences with cancer inspired them to establish the Pink Ribbon Club in the High School October 2018.

“We both have personal experiences with cancer from a really young age,” Rao said. “Even though we haven’t been diagnosed ourselves, having family being diagnosed is mentally and emotionally very hard.”

While revisiting plans for their club over the summer, they said they wanted to broaden their reach and mission beyond the ASL community in order to connect with students across the globe. 

“We decided to start up our own Instagram page, email and website, separate to ASL,” Shah said. “We started opening applications for people around the world to join. We started off with a few of our friends, and then somehow people found us and they started applying, even though they didn’t know us at all.”

Although Rao said COVID-19 regulations at the school have hindered their ability to hold bake sales to fundraise for Cancer Research UK, she said the pandemic helped them realize they could harness the power of social media to connect with others. 

“Mainly through Instagram, we try messaging a bunch of student organizations online for advice on how to run a cancer-based organization,” she said. “If you reach out saying, ‘Can you give us a shoutout?’ or ‘Can you help promote this or that?,’ they are really supportive.”

Shah said Cancer Together has gained over 1,100 followers on their Instagram so far.  

“We had to keep promoting ourselves over and over again,” she said. “Even if we weren’t getting a lot of attention immediately, it is important to not give up.”

Once a week, Rao said members of the organization – which include students from India, South Africa, the U.S. and the U.K. – meet via Zoom.

“It’s one of the most fun things that we do all week, when we get together on Fridays or Saturdays to plan out everything and Zoom with a bunch of people,” she said. “We’ve met so many people through the process, even though it’s just been a couple of months.” 

What that taught me is that every single person probably has a connection to cancer, whether it be our friends or family. Whether it’s my responsibility or not, I feel that I can contribute in a way to help these nonprofit organisations donate to cancer.”

— Tara Khurana (’22)

Tara Khurana (’22), who was a member of the Pink Ribbon Club and is now on the advertisement team of Cancer Together, said her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer motivated her to work with the organization. 

“What that taught me is that every single person probably has a connection to cancer, whether it be our friends or family,” she said. “Whether it’s my responsibility or not, I feel that I can contribute in a way to help these nonprofit organisations donate to cancer.”

Similarly, Ellie Lowe (’22) said she also joined the organization due to being on the Pink Ribbon Club last year. Lowe is a member of the interview team, where she said she organizes podcasts.

“We like to find someone online who has experience with cancer, then plan out the questions and conduct the interview through Zoom,” she said. “Then we edit it and post it on our podcast or our Instagram. Recently, we did an interview with a senior student in America who runs STEM Enrichment Youth.”

Lowe said her passion for the field of medicine coupled with her aunt’s medical specialization in liver cancer influenced her to work with Cancer Together. 

“I have wanted to be a doctor since I was young and plan on going to medical school, either in the U.K. or in the U.S,” she said. 

At the moment, Shah said the group is planning an open mic night via Zoom, which opens the floor for survivors or medical professionals to talk about their experiences with cancer. 

“We are still in the process of planning out the logistics and finding people who would be willing to talk, but that’s where it’s going in terms of future events,” she said.

Overall, Shah said the organization’s mission is to connect young people who have faced the effects of cancer and allow them to engage with each other. 

“Although there are a lot of organizations spreading awareness or raising funds for cancer research, there aren’t a lot that focus on children sharing their experiences or finding a safe place to talk about what they feel,” she said. “Our mission is to create a safe space for youth to share, learn and discuss the impacts of cancer and their experiences.”

This story was originally published on The Standard on February 1, 2021.