“Links of Hope” to kick cancer

Margaret Arabpour and Josie Iadiccico, co-presidents of CACNYU, stand at a kiosk for an on-campus Halloween event. Photo courtesy of CACNYU

At NYU, student health activists raise awareness to “tell people that you’re not in this fight alone”

by teddy son

On February 21, a large group congregated in front of the Washington Square arch. Boxes of coffee and hot chocolate were offered to keep passersby and participants warm while marveling at a large violet paper-link chain lying on the park’s cobblestones.

This event, held by the Coalition Against Cancer New York University Club (CACNYU), drew quite a crowd. Called “Links of Hope,” the gathering has been held every year for the past few years, or at least as long as current co-presidents Josie Iadiccico and Margaret Arabpour have been running the club.

The event mainly revolves around writing reasons why people hate cancer, and ways to raise awareness, on strips of paper in NYU’s color which are then linked together to make the chain, or “cancer ribbon.” According to club member Paul Roessling, the students collected a whopping 308 paper strips to make the ribbon.

“The mission is to show that everyone is affected by cancer in one way or another,” said Iadiccico, and to “tell people that you’re not in this fight alone.” Some people wrote general messages, such as “we hate cancer because it shortens people’s lives, because it hurts people,” whereas others shared more personal stories about friends and family.

“I lost a friend to cancer last summer,” said Roessling, “so I was like, fuck cancer, you know?”

“I have witnessed people that I love go through it, I have lost family members that I will never get to meet from it,” added Arabpour.

“I have lost family, I have family that has gone through it, I have gone through it [as a caregiver],” said Iadiccico. “It changes people’s lives, and we have the power to inform people about this.”

CACNYU has been a prominent example of college health activism for almost fifteen years. Originally the acronym stood for Colleges Against Cancer, working with the American Cancer Society, but the club branched out in 2017 to become its own independent group. The aims of the club have not changed much, though as Arabpour puts it: “We all want to see an end to cancer and have our part in this fight.”

A Focus on Caregivers

In its early days, CACNYU used to hold one large event (called “Relay For Life”) during the semester. Now the group is aiming to do smaller-scale, more frequent events as well as the occasional big event, “to get more involved during the school year,” Arabpour explained.

Beyond “Links of Hope,” CACNYU has participated in multiple fundraisers, including the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Central Park, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. CACNYU has conducted events with organizations such as Ronald McDonald Houses and Hope Lodges, while also working with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“We try to get involved on campus as much as possible, raising awareness among our fellow students,” said Iadiccico, “and we also do awareness around the city.”

The aims of the club are clear: to raise cancer awareness in NYU and its surrounding community. According to Roessling, “if every person was able to put his or her hand in the fight against cancer, whether it be awareness, getting money to research cancer, we’d find that it’s a much more hopeful outlook.” He added that because of the country’s “medical literacy problem,” it is important to educate people about cancer and familiarize them with it.

Arabpour said that a huge part of cancer awareness is early detection. “It’s an important step in fighting cancer because it can prevent later detection before it’s more detrimental to cure,” she said. “Awareness is that first step that anyone can take — you don’t need a medical degree.”

Iadiccico emphasized the impact of cancer on not just patients, but the patients’ loved ones as well. “Caregivers are people we also try to care for, and also highlight how hard that can be as well,” she said. “Not only [can cancer] take the life of the person who is fighting, but it can destroy the lives of the people caring for them. If we can get ahead of that, if we can make people aware of that pain, it can just widen people’s understanding, and it just comes back to the fact that we’re all in this together.”

Such motives have united these young college students in the ongoing fight against the ultimate disease. CACNYU is now is now prepping for its big end-of-semester fundraising event in May, and future aims may entail getting more directly involved with cancer patients. Above all, the students hope to educate at least one more person about a disease that may seem so alien at first, but resides closer than one would expect.