Elena Lopez and Nadia Mazinani are seniors at Coral Reef High School, they're best friends, and they share the same passion: fighting breast cancer.
"It effects a lot of people, one in every nine women after all, so I think people relate to it and want there to be a cure," Elena said.
So Elena took matters into her own hands. She talked her way into a volunteer position in a research lab at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. Elena worked on a method to induce the immune system to tackle cancer, and was named a co-author when the study was published in a medical journal.
"Adipocytes and leptin accumulation in thymic involution," rolled right off Elena's tongue. It's the title of the scientific article, which you can find on Google. You can also find the website of the club Elena founded, Youth Against Breast Cancer. Its mission is to raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer and pediatric cancers as well. Nadia joined right away.
"Since 9th grade I've been involved in breast cancer research and I decided that after sophomore year it was time to get involved, not only inside the lab but from a more global and interconnected level with the community," Elena said, explaining why she created the club.
It's clear that her involvement with cancer research, coupled with seeing her mom and grandmother deal with the disease, sparked the creation of YABC. Nadia got involved because she was actually diagnosed with cancer, stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma, in her junior year.
"One time, when just going to a normal checkup, they discovered like a lump right here," Nadia explained, pointing at her upper chest. "So basically the next day I go to the hospital and like I remember waking up and with stuff connected to me and they’re like, oh, you have cancer and you’ll have to go through six months of chemo."
That would be a devastating diagnosis for any teenager, except this one.
"No, it wasn’t devastating, it was exciting because I know I want to be a doctor so I knew that would give me such good insight as to how I would want to treat my patients in the future," Nadia said.
She went on to manage chemotherapy and the challenging class load in the International Baccalaureate program without telling anyone except Elena that she was sick, going to school instead of being home-bound. When Nadia lost some hair, she hid the damage by changing hair styles. When her finger nails turned blue from the weekly chemo treatments, she painted them with bright colors. Nadia's experience was a case of mind over matter.
"I convinced myself that my hair wouldn't fall out that much and I convinced myself that I would go and finish IB and I convinced myself that pain was all mental," Nadia said.
Both girls threw themselves into their club, staging fundraising events and giving talks at their school and six others. So far they've raised $10,000.
"Their work is extremely inspiring," said Lillian Pineda, a teacher who sponsors the Youth Against Breast Cancer club. "There's just no words for how amazing these girls are and the things they’re gonna do in the future."
Nadia will be a freshman at the University of Miami next year, with plans to go to medical school. Her experience as a cancer patient and as a cancer activist has made her wise beyond her years.
"Oftentimes people, especially the younger generation, take things for granted and we don't realize what we have until we lose it and I was one of those people," Nadia said, talking about her health.
Elena is off to Harvard University next fall, where she says she will try to continue her cancer research.
“I don't promise a cure, I mean I'm just a rookie at this, but I am going to try my best to get as educated as possible to impact the community, especially the cancer community," said Elena.
Ask any teacher who knows them at Coral Reef, and they'll say the future of medicine is in good hands with these talented, dedicated young women poised to enter the field one day.
You can donate to their cancer-fighting effort by clicking here.