Student and sorority raise breast cancer awareness

After her mother lost her battle with breast cancer, Cheryl Onwu made the decision to double major in biology and chemistry in the hopes of becoming an oncologist.  

Liz Geiman

The breast cancer awareness event Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority hosted on Monday was a way to remember and honor victims who battled the disease. For Murfreesboro, Tenn., senior Cheryl Onwu, the event hit a little closer to home.

Cheryl, a biology/chemistry pre-med major and member of AKA, experienced the difficulties of breast cancer after her mother was diagnosed in 2006.

She lost the battle three years later. Cheryl described her mother as a healthy eater and leader of a Christian family.

Cheryl’s sister, Kathy Onwu, who works as a nurse in Nashville, said that no matter how wholesome a person is, cancer can still strike.

“It doesn’t discriminate,” Kathy said.

The sisters played major roles in orchestrating the breast cancer awareness event, called Helping Each Remember, or H.E.R.

The event, which the sorority presented for the first time last year, hosts a speaker and informs attendees about breast cancer. This year, Kathy addressed the group. She covered myths and facts about the disease, how it affects people, and how and when to get screenings.

“I want people to learn about when there is a change (in their bodies) and what it will look like,” Kathy said.

Cheryl was 15 at the time of the diagnosis, but noticed the changes in her mother’s body.

“It was a reality check,” she said. “It was psychologically tormenting. Her cancer went into remission, and then it would come back.”

Cheryl spent winter break of her freshman year taking her mother to treatments. She could see her body getting weaker and was often frustrated.

“I wasn’t mad at her, I was mad at the cancer,” Cheryl said.

In February 2009, Cheryl was in class and got a text from a friend asking if she was okay. She had also missed a call from her father and knew something was wrong.

She called her father and sister with no answer. But when she reached him, she learned her mother had died.

“I stopped what I was doing and started crying,” she said.

Cheryl said she stayed positive to keep her family optimistic.

Because of the experience, she was the first to raise her hand to plan H.E.R.

By her side through the planning was sorority sister Nikkei Adeniran, a Dayton, Ohio, senior.

“Anything I needed, Nikkei was there to help me,” Cheryl said.

Adeniran was enthusiastic about helping with H.E.R. because of the turnout last year.

“I saw the impact on the student body and the community,” Adeniran said.

From the entire timeline of her family’s experience with cancer, Cheryl has gained a new passion for her schoolwork. As a pre-med student, she wants to study oncology.

“I’ve always wanted to be an oncologist, and I do especially now,” she said. “I am more passionate about it.”

She will continue her medical career path in Kentucky or Tennessee and spread awareness for breast cancer.

“As long as you learn one thing, that is enough,” she said.