NU students join national fight against cancer

Eunice Lee

Approximately 1.5 million cases of cancer are diagnosed each year, and now college students are joining the fight against it.

Plus Energy, a national non-profit cancer-fighting organization, plans to come to Northwestern later this academic year. Originally known as F.O.R.C.E. (Fighting, Overcoming, and Responding to Cancer Everywhere), the organization was founded in 1999 at the University of Virginia as a student group dedicated to preventing all forms of cancer.

Since becoming a national non-profit organization in 2007, Plus Energy has established a new branch at Virginia Tech, and is in the process of developing branches at George Washington, American and Columbia universities, as well as NU.

The national group, based in Washington D.C. and consisting of a team of 10 adult volunteers, hopes to have between five and 10 branches up and running by the end of the academic year. Plus Energy strives to mobilize the younger generations in the battle against cancer.

“We are different because we try to take a proactive, energetic outlook to cancer fighting,” said Christine Kowal, founder and president of Plus Energy. “College students are so energetic and passionate about different causes and we want to tap into that.”

Plus Energy branches have a framework centered on patient support programs, cancer awareness and prevention and fundraising initiatives. Each branch partners up with a local hospital or cancer center where students can volunteer on a regular basis and establish relationships with cancer patients.

In addition to volunteering, each student group hosts a variety of events designed to spread awareness and fundraise for research groups.

Past events hosted by Plus Energy include a 5K marathon called Run for the Lungs, which donated all proceeds to lung cancer research, and the Check Your Breast for a Bra raffle, wherein participants purchased a raffle ticket for a Victoria’s Secret gift certificate.

The organization also has been making efforts to partner with cancer research organizations such as LUNGevity Foundation, a group based in Chicago. They plan to create a signature event associated with LUNGevity that will be implemented in all the branches of Plus Energy.

“The importance of this partnership is that we get more national exposure,” said Jackie Abba, the event’s coordinator and partnership’s liaison. “We’re after expanding and growing into other universities.”

NU will be the first branch of Plus Energy located outside of the East Coast.

“Northwestern is the beginning of a westward expansion for us,” Abba said. “It’s our first foray into the Midwest, and we hope to include other western schools in the future.”

Weinberg sophomore Beth Kacel is NU’s primary representative. She was inspired by her personal connection with the cause – her grandfather had cancer on four separate occasions.

“At Northwestern, people are so involved in so many different things that it just feels natural to have an organization like Plus Energy,” Kacel said.

The feeling is mutual on the national level.

“Because Northwestern is such a large school, it provides an excellent audience for our cause,” Kowal said. “There’s also a phenomenal hospital associated with Northwestern so you’re working with the top doctors and residents in the country.”

Plus Energy’s youth-driven motivation is unique in the fight against cancer, said Elizabeth Guanlao, Plus Energy’s vice president.

“The most important thing is that it is student based,” she said. “Our focus is on young people. We enable students to fight cancer all over the nation.”

Reach Eunice Lee at [email protected]