AUM students travel to Peru to help fight cervical cancer

MONTGOMERY, AL - Seven years ago, Leah Welcher's grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow malignancy. Two months ago her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This week the biology student and five of her classmates from Auburn University at Montgomery's Cytotechnology Program are traveling to Peru, where they will volunteer for the International Cervical Cancer Foundation.

"Cancer is everywhere," said Welcher, who hails from Alexander City. "It has affected my family and I want to do something in my career that will hopefully help lead to a cure one day."
Cytotechnology is a health care specialty that focuses on the microscopic evaluation of cell samples from the human body. Cytotechnologists screen for pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions, infectious organisms, and other diseases—detecting and reporting signs of cancer. Students in AUM's program graduate with bachelor's degrees in biology and certification in cytotechnology. They go on to careers in hospital and private labs. On July 23 through August 5, AUM's 2010 class of cytotechnology students will intern at the CerviCusco clinic in Cusco, Peru—a non-profit organization affiliated with the International Cervical Cancer Foundation.
Peru has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the world, so the AUM students will put their skills and knowledge to work preparing and screening slides from Pap tests. They will also conduct individual research projects and present their findings at the Georgia Society of Cytology and the Cytology Association of Alabama's joint conference in Savannah, Ga. on August 14.
Volunteering their services in Cusco will cost each of the students approximately $2,500, which they have raised by completing several fundraising projects both on and off campus. They have also received donations from their friends, family and several entities at AUM including the Student Activities Fee Committee, Office of Academic and Student Affairs, School of Science, Biology Department, Division of Clinical Laboratory Science, Nursing Resource Center, Nursing Care Center and from Dr. Robert B. Adams, medical director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Division. 
"The generosity shown from their efforts has been more than imagined," said Sonya Griffin,  director of the cytotechnology program and leader of the service trip. "It has given such a positive confirmation to each student that this mission will impact the lives of so many. We are taking our skills and knowledge to Cusco in hopes of getting one step closer to finding a cure for this deadly disease."
In addition to Welcher, students participating in the trip include Samantha Cox of Clanton, Ala.; Charity Debose of Dothan, Ala.; Mary Kathyrn Marks of Montgomery, Ala.; Lynsey Renfroe of Montgomery, Ala.; Michael Whiteside of Prattville, Ala. Dr. Griffin's hometown is Brundidge, Ala.

Follow the group as they blog abroad at