Twice a survivor, twice a Brave

July 14, 2010

When she arrived on campus in 2004 as an education major, Rebecca Reznick had a full head of dark brown hair, an attribute she did not take for granted.  That is because as a high school junior with a legion of locks, Reznick’s benevolent plan to donate much of her hair to a charity that provides cancer patients with wigs was met with a cruelly ironic turn of events.  Just weeks before she was set to take scissors to her thick ponytail, she was diagnosed with cancer. As chemotherapy stole her tresses, she began wearing a wig in an effort to mask the most obvious sign of her health condition.  After nine months, she was cancer-free. Her hair grew back, and with it a renewed commitment to charity.  She set forth growing another ponytail, one she was determined would end up in a wig for an underprivileged patient.

Reznick was about to begin her sophomore year at Bradley when she received the devastating news that she had relapsed – three years after her first diagnosis, the cancer was back and she would need another round of chemotherapy.  This time, her humiliating hair loss was harder to keep out of the public eye.  She traded her wig for hooded shirts when sleeping so her roommate wouldn’t see her bald head, and the communal nature of a sorority house made it difficult to keep her illness from becoming the cornerstone of her identity. 

“I think that was the most difficult part for me, the altered appearance.  Beyond that, you really couldn’t tell anything was wrong, but the hair is really a big deal,” said Reznick.

Despite those challenges, however, Reznick called her undergraduate years at Bradley a “treat,” a physical refuge from hospitals and doctor’s offices and a mental escape from the emotional rigors of cancer. 

After earning an undergraduate degree in education, Reznick decided to instead pursue a career in medicine.  The most monumental experiences of her life to that point, surviving cancer and graduating from Bradley, inspired her next two decisions. She designated pediatric oncology as her specialty, and in homage to her Bradley family she enrolled in the university’s accelerated nursing program.

“I definitely came back to Bradley because of having such a positive undergrad experience here.  I knew the regular nursing program was great, and the accelerated program had everything I needed, so it was an easy decision,” said Reznick.

Now Reznick is earnestly pursuing a way to reach out to kids and teenagers who are going through medical hair loss. Since 2003, she has been raising funds to launch a charity that would provide cancer patients with money for wigs. 

“I wanted to do something to pay it forward, because I was able to afford a wig, and I knew there were people who weren’t able to, so it’s my way to help other people,” she said.

Reznick is vying with 1,000 hopefuls across the nation in the Pepsi Refresh Project, an online competition that awards $1.3 million each month to individuals, businesses, or non-profit organizations who propose ideas for charitable endeavors.  Online voters cast ballots for applicants competing for various sums of money.  If Reznick’s charity, Hair 4 You, ranks within the top ten contestants in her category at the end of July, she will receive $25,000 from the beverage company.  She would use the money to register as an official non-profit organization, raise awareness of her cause, and set up annual fundraisers.