Olivia Bonevento is a featured guest blogger for Komen CSNJ. She lives at the Jersey Shore and is currently a student at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Read more about Olivia on her personal blog — oliviabonevento.wordpress.com.
At Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey, our goal is to make an IMPACT each and every day — whether it is big, small, or somewhere in the middle, our organization consistently strives to make a difference and to end breast cancer forever.
Our second annual IMPACT Luncheon is one of the ways we do this. The luncheon, which was held on March 23, was an event of celebration, inspiration and education. Located at The Hamilton Manor, the event featured raffles, delicious lunch and impactful speakers who shared their insights and experiences with breast cancer.
Our speakers this year were especially inspiring, especially for me as a guest in the audience. Melissa Surdez of Johnson & Johnson, Meryl Marshall of Hynt Beauty, and Dr. Shridar Ganesan of Cancer Institute of New Jersey shared their stories with over 200 guests and offered personal anecdotes, medical insights, and of course, a dose of inspiration.
Marshall, a recent conqueror of breast cancer, started her speech by saying that no matter what happens in this life, when you get knocked down, you have to get back up. Marshall most certainly did with her creation of Hynt Beauty. When she searched for beauty products that were skin-healthy, she was dissatisfied with her results.
Marshall wanted to create a line of beauty products that had top-quality ingredients all while making her and all of the women wearing them feel “beautiful and special.” That is how Hynt Beauty was born. Thanks to Marshall, women can now feel glamorous while prioritizing their health and skincare.
Ganesan shared with the crowd that he didn’t always want to be an oncologist; his experiences in his residency are what led him down this career path. Ganesan studies how cancer cells are different than other cells. He is currently researching how DNA repair defects in breast cancer can be exploited to create effective treatments.
Ganesan is also looking to apply next-generation sequencing technology to detect specific genomic changes in cancers that can be targeted. He is passionate about breast cancer research. Ganesan leads a basic laboratory that focuses on breast cancer technology and works with many professionals across different disciplines to develop new treatments for the disease. He has made his mark on the world of breast cancer, and has most definitely made his mark on all who attended the IMPACT luncheon.
Melissa Surdez is a self-proclaimed “mover and liver.” When addressing the luncheon crowd, she was heartfelt.
“For the first time,” said Surdez. “I feel like I’m talking to my people; my cancer people. Thank you so much for that opportunity.”
Surdez, a Senior Human Resources Director for Johnson & Johnson’s Global Technology function, is currently living with stage four breast cancer and prides herself in being a mentor to many women, teaching them how to live life to the fullest and inspiring them to be their authentic selves.
“When I prepared for my TED talk on being authentic, I focused on times where I felt the most real in my life. And what always comes to mind are my experiences with hypnotist shows,” the two-time TED Talk contributor shared. “On two separate occasions when I was a young girl, I was completely open to hypnosis and remember nothing. One of the hypnotists said that I have no inhibitions, that I’m always all in.”
This mentality is how Surdez has always approached her life.
“It’s just life,” said Surdez. “I don’t care who anyone is, the person that is in front of me is always what matters most. I break bread and connect with people; stories matter. When you really take the time to break bread with people, you give them the license to be them, and you get the license to be you.”
Melissa is honest about her struggles with breast cancer. She emails her loved ones “Melissa Updates”, which are honest, real and at time humorous, chronicling her journey.
“I will forever have to have chemotherapy, and I will forever write about it because it is all I know,” said Surdez. “The only way to live life is to be the real you, and this is me, right down to the core.”
These three incredible individuals inspired those who attended our luncheon and serve as a reminder of the impact we can make through collaboration, communication and education. Through the support of event sponsors, donors and attendees, the second annual IMPACT Luncheon raised $50,000 for the fight against breast cancer.
The funds raised from this event will help to provide individuals in our communities with life-saving breast cancer services, such as mammograms, patient navigation, breast cancer education and more. A portion of these proceeds will benefit national research initiatives and priorities, including metastatic breast cancer treatments and disparities in breast cancer outcomes.
For more information on how you can make an impact and join us in our fight against breast cancer, visit www.komencsnj.org