Alumni

Bleed purple, go gold


 
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SUMMARY: The JMU club Dukes Against Childhood Cancer was built from the ground up by three dedicated students. These women each have different experiences with pediatric cancer and are doing what they can in the community to spread awareness.


By Shayla Brown (’20,’22M), graduate assistant, Office of Alumni Relations

On Sept. 9, Wilson Hall was lit gold in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The event was hosted by Dukes Against Childhood Cancer, a student club formed in Spring 2020.

“It was really special. We were out there from the afternoon into the evening as the sun went down,” said senior social work major LeAnna Headley, one of the club’s founders. “Some people brought picnics, some people brought homework and some people just stopped by to say ‘hi.’”

Headley runs the club with two other JMU students, juniors Caroline Laughorn and Hannah Moon.

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LeAnna Headley, Caroline Laughorn, Hannah Moon

Headley is no stranger to childhood cancer advocacy or building a new organization from the ground up. She has been an advocate for the pediatric cancer awareness movement since 2014 and is the founder of Our Amazing Fighters, a nonprofit that has lobbied on Capitol Hill for better policy and legislation on behalf of kids with cancer as well as family support programs.

“We deliver care packages nationwide to kids fighting cancer. We send bald American Girl dolls to girls who have lost their hair. We do mini-wishes, gift cards and a little financial support,” she said.

Headley’s work with the nonprofit is what led her to meet Laughorn, who has been fighting cancer for more than 12 years.

47.pngMoon, a hospitality major, became passionate about the cause after rooming with Laughorn during their freshman year. “I’ve been closely involved because of them. They made me passionate about it because they were, and they kind of spread that passion to me.”

The students’ busy schedules didn’t get in the way of their goal of spreading awareness of childhood cancer. Laughorn, a health sciences major and four-time cancer survivor, has regular doctor appointments on top of her school and club responsibilities. 

“Monday I had a doctor’s appointment in North Carolina, and I didn’t get back until Tuesday morning,” said Laughorn, who still suffers from the long-term effects of her diagnosis.

Her supporters in social media have adopted the phrase “Caroline Strong. It kept me going. People are watching me fight, and it makes me want to keep fighting,” Laughorn said.

Like many other organizations, DACC was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic just as it was getting started. The club didn’t actually hold its first in-person meeting until September.

“It was so fun to see people show up and want to be a part of it,” Headley said. “It shows that it’s not just the three of us who are passionate about the cause. There are other people who have direct connections to pediatric cancer or don’t but still want to be a part of it.”

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Wilson Hall was lit gold in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

In spreading awareness of childhood cancer, DACC club members made and handed out almost 300 gold ribbons to students, each one with a fact attached about childhood cancer. They hope to take advantage of gold being one of JMU’s colors and eventually host a “Gold Out” sporting event.

Headley, who hopes to become a child-life specialist to support families going through pediatric cancer, said she and her co-founders share a special bond. “It’s cool because we all have different perspectives and experiences of how we got involved and why we’re passionate about it. The passion has been there for a long time.”

Laughorn wants to be a physician’s assistant in pediatric oncology. “I just want to help people like people have helped me,” she said. “I just feel like I can understand the children. I can understand the families. I want to help give back.”

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The women hope to eventually pair DACC with Our Amazing Fighters to continue building awareness and make the lighting of Wilson an annual event.

They also hope to hold a similar event in February in honor of International Childhood Cancer Day after seeing the hope that it brought to the JMU community.

“It was really cool to see JMU prioritize the cause,” Headley said.“Obviously, there’s still a lot more work to do, and a lot more fight to be had.”

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Published: Thursday, December 9, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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