May 3, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
Valerie Levy has seen the toll breast cancer takes on patients and loved ones through her own eyes - having lost her grandmother to the disease, and watching her mother go through the physical and emotional struggles that cancer inflicts.
But the junior biology major has taken an active role in the fight against cancer, not only through awareness, but also through an opportunity for undergraduate research - research that will open doors for her to pursue her dreams of a medical career in battling the disease.
"The fact that I've experienced it has been a blessing in disguise," Levy said. "I've experienced it so that one day, I will be able to have a special connection that maybe not everyone would have with their patients."
Her experiences with breast cancer started while Levy was in high school when her grandmother, Dolores Kedzierski, was diagnosed with the disease. She became inspired to pursue a career as a physician's assistant, and had a chance to undertake an internship with the oncology practice that took care of her loved one, and she observed the care of other patients as well.
While she was interning there, her mother, Debra Levy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Valerie's whole family was affected as they watched her go through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"Knowledge is more power instead of nothing," she said. "I was able to really connect with a patient, and it was after making that connection it just clicked: this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life."
During her sophomore year at GSU, Levy performed research that attacked cancer cells. In the lab of Ritu Aneja, associate professor of biology, she explored how scientists could kill the abnormal cells without killing "good cells" by using natural ingredients - compounds from sweet potato leaves - instead of more toxic substances.
"It was really fun, and it was the coolest thing to work every day with cancer cells," she said. "By doing that, all of the things I've had to learn for the research lab have helped me be so much further ahead in my other labs, including the fundamental techniques for molecular microbiology that I'll need for a master's degree program."
Outside of the lab, she's a member of a sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. All Greek organizations at Georgia State are required to do philanthropic work, and ZTA has made a focus on breast cancer - through awareness campaigns, the annual "Think PINK!" picnic, helping cancer patient's families, and creating packages for cancer patients which include stress balls to improve circulation.
Her mom is in remission now, but it's still terrifying when she has to go to the oncologist's office for a six-month check up. And Valerie and her sister realize that with their family history, they will have to take precautions and start screening earlier.
But the experiences, from the oncology practice to GSU's laboratories, have been life-affirming, and will help her as she walks down her academic path toward her goals in medicine.
"Bad things happen, but good things can come from them," she said. "I think that's truly what God's purpose in the whole thing has been for me."