By Gisselle Hernandez, Features Editor
Every three minutes, a child in the U.S. is diagnosed with cancer, and an organization at Murray State is attempting to alleviate this statistic. Elizabeth Kozeny, senior from St. Louis and vice president of Murray State’s Love Your Melon crew, was one of those children 11 years ago when she was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma.
Years after being diagnosed with brain cancer, Kozeny decided to give back by creating Murray State’s own Love Your Melon “campus crew” last October. Love Your Melon is an organization that helps battle childhood cancer by selling merchandise where 50 percent of the proceeds go toward childhood cancer research. The organization was started by two college students at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2012, when they decided to start selling and giving beanies to children with cancer for a class project. Since then, the organization has expanded to college campuses all over the nation, with more than 11,000 students at 740 different colleges becoming part of the movement.
Last fall, Kozeny applied for Murray State to be one of the colleges that will help LYM spread awareness about childhood cancer. The organization coming to campus drew the attention of many students, gaining support from both Racers and community members. The Murray State crew earns credits for every online purchase made in their name, and when enough credits are earned, the crew unlocks achievements like hospital visits along with receiving beanies and bracelets to hand out to people.
During the time the crew has been at Murray State, they have connected with local kids affected with cancer and hosted different events in their honor. One of those locals was Zoey Smith, who was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was 20 months old. Kozeny said they have done jars of hope and signed cards for her, which Smith’s mother appreciated.
“I think its eye-opening to see that even these small things can brighten someone’s day,” she said. “[Zoey’s mom] was really grateful and I’m like ‘I’m just giving you a hat, you guys are the ones going through so much.’”
James Murphy, senior from Belleville, Illinois, is the current president of Murray State’s LYM crew. He said his passion for the organization stemmed from a friend’s little sister who was diagnosed a few years ago.
“Children should not have to face such hard challenges at such a young age,” he said. “They need all the help and support they can get.”
On December 31, 2015, the organization officially handed one million dollars to childhood cancer research. Kozeny said this was a huge accomplishment, considering how underfunded the research is. She said apart from donating to cancer research, it is important to raise awareness on the illnesses children go through. At Murray, however, the crew members said once students heard what LYM was about, they threw their full support behind the organization. So many people wanted to get involved, the crew had to hold an application process because of the limited spots. Though the students in the crew know they are helping out children with cancer, Murphy said being involved affects the person as well.
“I think members learn to appreciate life more, and learn to give back to others as much as they can,” he said. “We all go through hard times and appreciate when people reach out to us. LYM gives you a chance to see how gratifying it is to be the one reaching out to someone in need.”
When the Murray State crew had just started, they ended up winning a competition of which campus crew sold the most credits. They have hosted tables at the Curris Center and make it a mission to pass out bracelets from the organization.
Audrey Dirnberger, senior from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, said they plan to host more events to spread word about the organization, especially raising awareness on how common it is for a child to be diagnosed.
“Little kids should not have to deal with this,” Dirnberger said. “They should be running outside and playing, not going through something like this.”
Dirnberger said despite knowing she is working toward a good cause, the reminder of how awful it is that kids go through this plagues her mind.
“It’s awesome but its just hard to know these kids are suffering and some don’t even make it out alive,” she said.
A recent statistic from Kids v Cancer states 25 percent of children diagnosed with cancer die. This rate is lower than that of years ago, when Kozeny was diagnosed. Her personal experience with being diagnosed fuels her passion to help push the organization along.
“It’s like I have to give back in some way because I was lucky enough to be here,” she said.
Though the crew is currently at their maximum capacity of 20 members, people can support the organization by buying beanies and other merchandise online at LoveYourMelon.com under the Murray State campus.