With the Capitol building as a backdrop, Brittany Avin and hundreds of volunteers placed 20,000 lights in paper bags — each representing a loved one who has battled cancer — and arranged them to spell out two words: “HOPE” and “CURE.” The most important words, though, were the handwritten messages of compassion and support that decorated each bag.
This breathtaking display is a staple of the annual “Lights of Hope” ceremony held in Washington D.C. As the event’s emcee, Avin gave voice to the 750 cancer patients, survivors and volunteers from across the country who attended the event. In addition to honoring those whose lives have been affected by cancer, the ceremony urges Congress to take specific steps to make cancer treatment and research a national priority.
Avin’s determination to make a difference began at Clemson, where she took on an ambitious genetics and biochemistry major. Her impressive academic accomplishments earned her an invitation to the prestigious National Scholars Program, and when she wasn’t studying, she spent her summers participating in undergraduate cancer research programs at Emory University and Vanderbilt University.
Avin was chosen to lead the national event based on her involvement with Clemson’s “Relay for Life” event as a student and her continued commitment to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) as an alumna.
At the ceremony, Avin spoke from her heart, but also from her experience. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 13.
Avin is going beyond advocating for legislative reform as one of 14.5 million cancer survivors living in the United States today. She is currently studying at Johns Hopkins University with hopes to become a cancer researcher.
“Research helped make a difference for me when I was 13 years old,” she said. “It is critical that our lawmakers do everything possible to ensure progress toward treatments is not impeded for those who are receiving a cancer diagnosis today or in the future.
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