Class of 2000
Major: Journalism and Mass Communication
One of the reasons I chose to attend St. Bonaventure was its clear sense of caring and outreach to the community, that which is evident in its students, faculty and alums. This quality that first drew me in as a visiting high school senior remains a central part of my life, but never did it come more into focus than with one haunting word — cancer.
If someone had told me that as a twenty-something I would battle the dreaded “C” word, not once, but twice, I never would have believed it. Yet, I wish someone had told me more about cancer way back when.
It turns out that the disease most equate with an older generation is becoming more common among young adults. In fact, there are an estimated 70,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 in our country diagnosed with cancer each year — and this pocket of survivorship to which I now belong has been largely underserved and unrecognized.
Three years ago on an Internet hunt for my own answers I stumbled upon a website for the advocacy organization I’m Too Young For This, or iy. As it would turn out, purpose found me.
Suddenly, I was advocating on behalf of others like myself - many of whom suffer minimal or no health insurance, little age-appropriate peer support, and later stage diagnosis due to being overlooked by an uninformed physician.
After connecting with Matthew Zachary, iy’s founder, I formed one of the first chapters of iy in the country in Rochester, N.Y., organizing social events for a group of young cancer survivors who (just like myself) felt alone.
In subsequent years, my work as a young adult cancer advocate has taken me many places, from the open spaces of Montana to a global cancer summit in Columbus, Ohio, for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
I’ve shared my story with various media outlets and spoken at many events, but my most memorable experience was presenting to the St. Bonaventure community.
Thanks in part to the overwhelming efforts of faculty member Carole McNall and the Student Government Association, I was able to co-present a seminar designed to educate students on cancer awareness.
Since that event almost two years ago, I have seen the ripple effect of young adult cancer advocacy spread on campus.
The Bonaventure community stepped up to the plate. Students like Thomas Waters, ’11, Sabrina Maddeaux, ’10, and Jeff Butler, ’09, took on this cause in a way I could have never imagined, raising money and, more importantly, awareness. They inspire me and I find it the ultimate proof that my alma mater continues to be an environment embracing incredible social change and innovation.
(In addition to her work on behalf of iy, Shearer works at the Norman Howard School in Henrietta, N.Y., and serves as the program coordinator for Melissa’s Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation.)