Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Lamie Nguyen ’12 has followed her Swattie prerogative—to do interesting things and many of them—since graduating this past May. The biology and sociology/anthropology major is currently working as a tutor in multiple subjects, will begin medical school at the University of Rochester next fall, and is now fundraising for a remarkable cross-country journey that she will embark on this summer.
Nguyen will cycle from Baltimore to San Francisco with 4K for Cancer, a program within UCF, the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. The results of fundraising before and during the 70-day, 4,000-plus mile ride will support UCF in aiding young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer with extensive programming, scholarships, and an informational booklet, among other efforts. As of press time, Nguyen had raised $5,338 towards her goal of $7,500.
Nguyen has experienced first-hand the devastating effects of cancer and the value of UCF’s work in supporting those whose lives have been touched by it. “Cancer is one of the scariest things that life can throw at you,” she wrote in an email. “It changes everything and can change the way you understand what it means to be alive. However, I think it’s also important to remember that it can happen to anyone – even seemingly healthy young adults such as ourselves.”
Cancer touched Nguyen’s life early when an aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. “At that age, I didn’t really know what was going on,” Nguyen said in a conversation over Skype. “I think my family tried to shelter me.” And that was only the beginning.
“Throughout high school, one of my favorite teachers was also diagnosed with breast cancer,” Nguyen said. “She was in remission for a while and then it came back. She was struggling with it throughout the last year I was in high school. She would come to class every day and we had an AP physics exam to prepare for—and you could tell she was exhausted—but she still wanted to be there for her students.”
Nguyen entered Swarthmore a biology major on the pre-med track, and after taking a sociology class her freshman year, added sociology/anthropology as a second major. She wrote in an email, “Soc/Anth really expanded the way that I understand what I’m learning and how I approach issues now. It has changed my perspective on the world around me, the people around me, and the bigger picture for many – healthcare, poverty, race relations, education, etcetera”
To name just a few of Nguyen’s Swarthmore extracurricular activities, she was on the tennis team for one year, worked as a biology TA, founded the Photography Club and the Swarthmore Pre-Health Society, served on the College Juidiciary Committee, researched her thesis in Vietnam, and studied abroad in Argentina her senior fall.
It was in Argentina that Nguyen learned that her grandfather had been rediagnosed with stomach cancer. The support she received during this time is part of why she chose UCF in lieu of a research fund: to help people currently dealing with cancer. “Being so far from home, and not being able to do anything about it—that feeling of being helpless in a situation is one of the worst feelings for me,” she said over Skype. In both Argentina and back at Swarthmore, she found supportive networks of friends and peers.
“During finals period when my grandfather passed away, I went to my professors in tears and they were the best about it,” she said. “They opened their office doors and were more than just professors; they were friends, they were role models, they were mentors, they were closer to me than the word professor can encompass. Having that net to fall back on when you hit a low point—it is one of the most important things and it showed me what other people—what community—can do for you.”
Connecting her experience of cancer with running and cycling didn’t happen immediately, but once it did, it made a lot of sense to Nguyen. After years of tennis and one year on the Swat tennis team, she turned to running, swimming, and eventually cycling to stay active. The unique challenge of individual sports, said Nguyen, is that “you have to be the one to motivate yourself—you have to be the one to get out of your own head.” It became about mental as well as physical exercise: “how to stay focused, put things in perspective.”
While Nguyen has completed triathlons and 5k runs in the past, this summer’s adventure will be her biggest to date. She started fundraising in November, and already has been touched tremendously by people’s stories and generosity. She also applied for and was selected as one the two co-Ride Directors for Team San Francisco and will be leading a group of nine riders within the 32-plus member team.
“As a team, we are cycling to spread awareness, inspire others to join the fight, and raise funds for a group of people with whom we have a lot in common,” Nguyen said.
As Nguyen continues her work, fundraising, and planning for the future, she is learning that the Swattie syndrome (being overly passionate about too many interests) is the most valuable bug you can catch at Swarthmore. “I realized that I can combine so many things I love in my day to day life,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be that if I choose medicine, that’s the only thing I do, that’s it. If I love traveling, I can combine that into my work in medicine. If I want to be an advocate for the UCF support network, I can combine my love of staying active and sports and traveling all in one.”
For students at Swarthmore experiencing what Nguyen went through, she gives the following advice—words as inspiring and strong as the young woman who wrote them. She reminds students to keep everything in perspective, but pursue their passions. “Life is so short, and it can change in an instant,” she said. “Pursue things that make you feel alive, make you experience something you’ve never experienced before. Seek out opportunities to make a positive difference in other people’s lives, because at the end of the day, all we really have are the people around us. Find meaning in what you are doing and cherish the people you are with. And don’t let that idealism die – first observe, learn, and experience. Then, back it up with action, and never give it up.”
To read Lamie’s profile and learn more about 4k for Cancer, go to http://4kforcancer.org/
Photo courtesy of Lamie Nguyen.