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From diagnosis to destiny

By Dana Borick Brigandi

When Heather (Nelson) Lanning ’06 was a student at Lycoming College, she

was active in the Colleges Against Cancer club and was a speaker during the

annual Relay For

Life event.

But what many

of her classmates

didn’t know was

Lanning was

battling stage

two Hodgkin’s

lymphoma that was

diagnosed during

the final semester

of her senior year.

“I was

diagnosed on Jan.

13, 2006, it was

Friday the 13th, so

it is hard to forget

the date,” Lanning





every other

Tuesday during the

semester, which

was physically and emotionally draining.

“I was in a lot of pain and was pretty much bed-ridden,” she said.

“My professors were very understanding and my schedule was modified


After six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation, Lanning was

declared cancer-free in August 2006. Lanning said many people remember

her survivor speech during the campus Relay because she did something very


“Most people did not know how sick I was because I always wore my wig,”

Lanning said. “I vaguely remember my speech – I wrote about how cancer

patients are like Samson, we might not have any hair and are physically weaker,

but it doesn’t dampen our Warrior spirit. Out of the blue, I decided I was

whipping off the wig, because I knew it would be more impactful.”

Lanning said the all-volunteer Relay For Life shows the power that a group

of passionate people can display.

“If you are ever in need of a healthy dose of restored faith in humanity, go to

a relay,” she said. “After seeing one event, I knew I had to be a part of it, which

eventually led me to my career with the American Cancer Society.”

Lanning now is the income development specialist for the East Central

Division of the American Cancer Society in State College, Pa. She said that

Hena Ahmad ’04 was just starting her cancer journey as she was finishing hers

and that they were fortunate to reconnect before Ahmad’s passing.

“When Hena passed away in 2010, Lycoming College held a memorial

service for her in Honors Hall,” Laning said. “It gave Hena’s friends, professors

and loved ones a chance to reconvene in a place that held many special

memories. Hena loved her time at Lycoming, and we all were given the

opportunity to come ‘home’ to say goodbye. As you can see, Lycoming does

not forget its own and this makes me very proud to say that I am an alumna of

Lycoming College.”


Laura (Holdredge) Layaou

Amanda Smolarek

(biology) earned

a doctorate in biochemical toxicology

from Rutgers University of Pharmacology

and Toxicology and The University of

Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

in January. Amanda is a mammalian

toxicologist at FMC Corp., where she

manages contracted toxicology studies,

evaluates the toxicity of new active

ingredients and formulations, and

contributes to critical toxicology reviews

of FMC products around the globe.


Amil Guzman

Amilcar Guzman

(psychology) has

been accepted into the Partners of the

America’s Fellowship in Paraguay. The

fellowship aims to build relationships

with professionals and organizations in a

diverse community setting that is centered

around citizen advocacy, participation,

transparency and accountability. Amil

also participated in the Out of the

Darkness overnight walk in Washington,

D.C., June 1-2, to help raise awareness for

depression and suicide.

Kyle Kissell


returned to campus to give a presentation

in the College Archives on April 12.

He has been developing his storytelling

repertoire at Renaissance fairs and other

venues. His work is available at www. Kyle earned a


Cancer survivor Heather (Nelson) Lanning ’06 helps the American

Cancer Society “celebrate more birthdays.”

Amil Guzman ’08

Kyle Kissell ’08