At the age of 21, Hashim Al Abri has had more than 23 surgeries and overcome cancer twice. After four years of being cancer-free, the junior at FIU is battling the disease for a third time.
He recalls the advice his father gave him when he was first diagnosed with ganglioneuroblastoma at the age of 15.
“My dad sat me down and was like, 'you can be negative about this and say you can’t do any of it, or you can take it head-on and say this is a war that you’re going to win.' And that’s the attitude I took,” Al Abri says.
In solidarity with Al Abri and the countless courageous cancer survivors, on March 6, FIU kicked off fundraising in Miami-Dade for Relay for Life, a national event that raises funds to support the American Cancer Society.
Organized by student leaders and the Center for Leadership and Service, FIU students spent the night increasing cancer awareness, honoring survivors and solidifying their ongoing commitment to find a cure for cancer—the second leading cause of death in the United States.
“We are fighting for every birthday, for every future threatened by cancer in every way across our community,” said Elizabeth Bejar, senior vice president for Academic & Student Affairs.
FIU’s Relay for Life has raised more than $1 million since its inception, 16 years ago. This year, organizers were joined by more than 40 teams and 700-plus registered participants, including students, faculty, staff, survivors and community members. Altogether, they raised more than $84,000 toward cancer research.
“I think this speaks volumes of who we are as an institution. The fact that our students are committed not only to transforming our own campus but also making a difference for the world,” said Sabrina Leeloo Rosell, MMC student body president and university trustee.
The 2020 theme, A Relay Night in Miami, delivered a fun evening with Latin flair for participants and guests. Individuals camped in front of the Ryder Business Building and took turns on the relay track. Activities included a dinner for cancer survivors, lighting of luminarias to remember loved ones lost and various fundraising activities to benefit the American Cancer Society programs on education, patient services, cancer research and prevention studies.
In addition to making monetary contributions, a few brave participants donated their hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths—a program which distributes free, real-hair wigs to women affected by cancer.
Kyra Ferbeyre, a senior studying to be a pre-physician assistant participates every couple of years. This year, she donated eight inches of her locks. “I have so much hair and I feel it’s going to a good cause,” she said.
Others shaved their heads in solidarity with cancer patients and survivors during the event’s popular, shave-a-thon.
One of those participants was Hashim Al Abri. He was joined on stage by his two roommates and friends (all from his home country, the Sultanate of Oman), who surprised him by shaving their heads in his honor.
“I honestly have gotten way more out of the disease than it has gotten out of me,” Al Abri says.