This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.

FRIEND'S FIGHTING SPIRIT INSPIRES HER TO WALK ON

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A few Saturdays ago, I walked in the "Expedition Inspiration Take-A-Hike" event  at Paramount Ranch to raise money for breast cancer research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Like so many other hikers, my motivation was personal: Only three weeks before, I'd lost my friend Suzy Merriam to breast  cancer.

As I put on my Rosie the Riveter T-shirt with the caption that read "We Can Do It!" that morning, I thought of one of my last visits with Suzy, when I'd given her the same shirt. Suzy  was a "We Can Do It!" kind of person. Over a four-year period, she'd endured countless treatments, from chemotherapy to stem cell surgery. There were many times it looked as though she'd beaten her disease, only to have her cancer  recur.

Suzy was a motivational speaker, a leader for Weight Watchers. She led meetings with passion that inspired many to their weight-loss goal. When I first met her at a business luncheon,  I was immediately drawn to her electric personality. During our conversation that day, Suzy shared that she was a cancer survivor. My mother was only 41 when she died of cancer, just nine weeks after being diagnosed. Because of my  own experience, I found Suzy's endurance heartening.

By then, I was already a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation at UCLA, seeing it as a wonderful opportunity to make a  difference in memory of my mother. What a clear testament to my fund-raising work, it seemed, to meet Suzy.

Suzy and I became fast friends. We had much in common, including our love for Lucille  Ball. We were always finding something to laugh at. She always had a new joke and had a great talent for telling them. She'd walk into a room, and people would immediately surround her to hear her stories and jokes. Her love of  life was infectious.

Within the first year of our friendship, her cancer recurred, this time in her hip. Suzy bravely went through hip replacement surgery. As soon as she could, she was up  and around again with the help of a cane, motivating members at WW meetings. She never complained.

I remember that following summer, celebrating her life and recovery at her birthday party.  She looked fabulous in her bikini and wild hat. Someone who didn't know her wouldn't have believed what she'd gone through the previous spring. I really did believe she'd beat this disease — with an attitude like hers, how couldn't  she?

But here I was, on this Saturday morning, checking in at the registration table for the walkathon. As the volunteer handed me my event T-shirt, she pointed at some brightly colored  banners on the table. "Would you like to write down the name of a survivor you know and pin it on your back?" I thought that I couldn't cry anymore over losing Suzy. But as I wrote, "in memory of Suzy Merriam," I sobbed.

Surrounded by cancer survivors that day, I was reminded that the work we do to fund research is saving lives. And we must keep fighting. Those we have lost along the way would want us to keep  going. Especially Suzy.

Chrissy Lomax-Primeau is a member of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation.

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