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Walking to remember

PV grad honors her mother by raising cancer awareness

Joanna+Connors+participates+in+the+Light+the+Night+walk+for+cancer.
Joanna Connors participates in the Light the Night walk for cancer.

Joanna Connors participates in the Light the Night walk for cancer.

Contributed by Joanna Connors

Contributed by Joanna Connors

Joanna Connors participates in the Light the Night walk for cancer.

Julia Ganbarg, Staff Writer

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Joanna Connors cannot stand cancer. So instead she walks.

On Oct. 8, 2014, the unimaginable happened. Joanna Connor’s mother Lisa passed away from a rare form of leukemia known as Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Since her mom was diagnosed on Oct. 18, 2013, the Connors family has made it a priority to support many organizations and fundraisers.

Every year, Connors is a proud supporter of the Light the Night walk. The three-hour event consists of one long lap around the lake in Verona Park in Verona, NJ. Each participant receives a colored lantern to hold while they walk along the path: red lanterns for supporters, white lanterns for survivors, and gold lanterns in memory of a lost loved one.

Connors and her family help to make Relay for Life a success, a 12-hour overnight team fundraising event. Team members walk around a local track to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Team names are very important to Connors, who uses a different team name for each event.

“For Light the Night, we use the name Lisa’s Ruby Slippers,” Connors said. “That’s because my mom’s name is Lisa, the color for blood cancers is red, and her favorite movie is Wizard of Oz, so we just combined the three.”

Connors created this name with her mother before she passed and it is one she is proud to use.

Hope was my mom’s favorite word, so we really like to use that.”

— Joanna Connors

“We use #HOPE for Relay for Life,” she said. “Hope was my mom’s favorite word, so we really like to use that.”

Getting back to “normal” for Connors was not easy, but she is trying her best as she is now a freshman at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Growing up, Connors was an only child, so being around people all the time is something she loves.

Living away from home and being on her own at college has opened Connor’s eyes about what she can do and who she can be. She is a member of the club Colleges Against Cancer and makes sure that Relay for Life and similar events are publicized around her college campus.

She especially loves the “ugly sweater walk” in which all proceeds are donated directly to the American Cancer Society. In February, Connors participated in a spin event called “Cycle for Survival” where many people gathered at an indoor spin place to raise money and awareness for rare cancers.

College has given Connors the opportunity to find her passion. She knows exactly where she sees herself in five years.

“I would definitely hope to have a teaching job,” Connors said. “It’s always been my dream to be back at Smith, my elementary school.”

Connors plans on dedicating the rest of her life to helping and making an impact on others.

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Walking to remember