It’s the kind of birthday that hurts every time it comes around. But for Cara Seward, research assistant at IQVIA, it’s bittersweet. The worst moment of her life also helped her make the best decision of her life and changed the trajectory of her career. Ten years ago, when she was just 19, Seward lost her mother, JodieAnn, to breast cancer.
“My mom was my best friend,” Seward said. “So losing her at a really crucial crossroads between childhood and adulthood was tough. I feel like I’ve been thrown into adulthood without a partner – just kind of understanding it as I go. and as you go, make it fly.
What Seward has come to realize over the past decade is that she wants to dedicate her life to cancer research and care. Today, she is the Community Outreach Coordinator for LOWVELO, an annual cycling event to benefit MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Scheduled for November 5, participants can choose from one of four routes, a virtual option or the stationary bike and come together with volunteers, researchers and the community to celebrate cancer survivors and those lost to cause of the disease.
“I admired a lot of the things my mom did,” Seward said. “And it has absolutely influenced the way I live my life. This is part of the reason why I work for LOWVELO. She always told us that it was so important to give back to the community; that we were born into a privileged life and that it was part of our job to improve the lives of others.
A self-proclaimed “science nerd,” Seward knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in science. When her mother passed away, she became fascinated with studying cancer and that changed everything. Last July, she earned a master’s degree in biomedical science with a concentration in molecular biology of cancer from MUSC College of Graduate Studies. She spent her graduate years studying a therapy-resistant form of pediatric brain cancer called medulloblastoma.
Next year, Seward hopes to attend medical school to become a medical oncologist. “I saw how the loss of my mother changed my life in so many negative ways,” she said. “And I realized that in a positive way it changed me, I could help prevent the negative for others. That’s what really inspired me to do what I do. That’s the beautiful result of it.
Seward calls her mother an angel who always tried to make others smile, recalling that she found or made a gift to bring to the person sitting next to her every time she went through chemotherapy.
“Losing someone who is such a good person at such a young age – I mean, she was only 50 – really makes you wonder how fair life is, but it also allowed me to do something about it,” Seward said. This is exactly what Seward does through his work at MUSC and Hollings.
“Hollings is uniquely situated in that it is the only NCI-designated cancer center in the state of South Carolina,” Seward explained. “So the research that we’re able to do really changes what people across the state have access to. I strongly believe that everyone should be able to benefit from the same level of cancer care, because cancer is not something that everyone chooses. It just happens. No one should die of cancer because they cannot afford or have access to appropriate therapies.
Seward knows that if there’s one thing cancer research needs, it’s huge funding. One hundred percent of what participants raise for LOWVELO funds vital research conducted at Hollings. It’s the kind of research Seward thinks could save future cancer patients from experiencing everything his mother did.
“While studying cancer, I really looked back at the kinds of therapies, diagnoses and pathologies that my mother received when she was diagnosed,” Seward said. “We now have great therapies for HER2 positive patients and they didn’t even test that at the time. With HER2-positive breast cancer, we were able to identify that marker, find a treatment for it, and then put it in patients. This had a huge impact on breast cancer outcomes.
Patients with breast cancers detected at an early stage now have a very high survival rate, which is why Seward is pleased to see better screening techniques being used and new therapies being developed. “That’s why I personally feel so passionate about cancer research because I’ve seen the difference in 10 years and what it can do if the funding is there,” Seward said. “And so that’s a huge reason why I’m so passionate about LOWVELO.”
Honoring his mother is something Seward tries to do every day. “If my mom was diagnosed today, there’s a 90 percent chance she survived it,” Seward said. “I can’t do anything about it, but what I can control is how I help patients who are diagnosed today and how I help patients who are diagnosed tomorrow and five years from now. That’s really what I’m trying to focus on – learning from my experience with my mom and using it to motivate myself and others to support cancer research, donate to LOWVELO, ride with us, live a healthy life, exercise and be the healthiest versions of ourselves so that we are there for our loved ones.
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