KOKOMO, Ind. — Health sciences students at Indiana University Kokomo gave of themselves – literally – when they donated breast tissue to advance research of breast cancer, benefitting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank.
Student Pam Plain called donating tissue "one of the most uplifting things I've done in my life," and now plans a career in breast cancer advocacy. She's excited to be an intern at the tissue bank this summer.
"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."
Six students in Jessica Henderson's civic engagement and breast cancer class donated tissue at the center, in the IU Simon Cancer Center, while others provided support and encouragement to donors and assisted clinic staff in sample collection.
Henderson, assistant professor of health sciences, wants her students to know they don't have to wait to earn a degree to make a difference. After all, she is a breast cancer survivor herself.
"I was touched by their response to serving at the tissue bank," she said, adding that the students are forming an advocacy club on campus. "They showed a deep sense of empathy with the women and men who have been affected by breast cancer, and they expressed an eye opening experience into the joys of being an advocate.
"They appreciated the heartfelt passion of the people who volunteered that day. I have a feeling most of them caught the advocacy bug, and will be more likely to seek out opportunities to serve their communities in the future."
This was a unique opportunity because the tissue bank, in Indianapolis, is the only one in the country that collects and studies healthy breast tissue.
"In order to prevent breast cancer, we need to know what normal is," she said. "Being able to study normal tissue is vital. This tissue bank provides samples to researchers all over the world."
Student Alexandria Jewell said the process was 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," she said. "It sounds scarier than what it is."
Shanique Gilliam gave tissue after learning there is a pressing need for samples from women of varied backgrounds.
"It was important to me, as a black woman, to donate," she said.
Sandra Beech donated in honor of her grandmother, who died of breast cancer.
"This gave me a chance to take action, and be part of something good," she said. "I want to do what I can to contribute to a cure. Breast cancer is more than a pink ribbon."
Sandie Bennett said with one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly everybody knows somebody who has had it.
"It's just really nice to be part of something that hits home for so many people. It's doing something about it, not just talking about it."
The students also plan to walk in the 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."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.