“Dear Cancer: although you took so much, you still inspired me to help others and fight back against you. You gave me strength and leadership skills I never knew I had…I cannot wait for the day where the cure has been found to end your evil reign.”

These words from Rio Mesa High School student Jacob Rodriguez are just some of the many unforgettable messages delivered to cancer through the “Dear Cancer, It’s Me” essay contest held by Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara. Celebrating these astounding young people at our annual awards luncheon is one of the highlights of the year for us.

Our community gathered on May 20 to honor the finalists who bravely shared how cancer affected their lives. The program featured Master of Ceremonies David Studebaker, Keynote Speaker Dr. Kevin Axelrad, essay contest founder Karen Eckhardt, and a cello performance by Esther Kim, a Westlake High School student and survivor of lymphoma.

Finalists in the Family and Friends category:

Valentina Maria – Louisville High School

Daniel McGreevy – Santa Susana High School

Jacob Rodriguez – Rio Mesa High School

Finalists in the Personal category:

Caitlin Meaney – Moorpark High School

Tanya Ramirez – Pacifica High School

Lacey Stahura – Agoura High School

Special thanks to event sponsors Premier America Credit Union, Union Bank, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, The Cheesecake Factory, Westlake Village Garden Club, Adidas, Alex Neumann Photography, Quiksilver Printing & Graphics, Alexandra Resnik Design, and our generous individual donors: Lisa Allison, CSCVVSB Board Member, Sharon Altman, CSCVVSB Board Treasurer, Dina Barmasse, CSCVVSB Board Member, Holly Cole, CSCVVSB Board Member, Bridget Karl, CSCVVSB Former President & CEO, Diane Kay, CSCVVSB Board Member, Elizabeth Kin, CSCVVSB Founder & Board Member, Frank Lusher, Mark J. Maidel, Jr., and Garry Malin, CSCVVSB Board Member.

Ready to be inspired? Read the finalist essays here: