Life-altering loss: LOWVELO Community Outreach coordinator chose a career in cancer after losing her mother

October 10, 2022
a woman in a white graduation gown and cap poses, hugging her mother
Cara Seward with her mother, JodieAnn, at graduation. Photos provided

It’s the kind of anniversary that hurts every time it comes around. But for Cara Seward, research assistant at IQVIA, it’s bittersweet. The worst moment of her life also helped her to make the best decision of her life and changed the trajectory of her career. Ten years ago, when she was just 19 years old, Seward lost her mother, JodieAnn, to breast cancer.

“My mom was my best friend,” said Seward. “So, losing her at a really crucial junction between childhood and adulthood was tough. I feel like I was thrown into adulthood without a partner – just kind of figuring it out as I went, winging it.”

What Seward figured out as she navigated her way through the past decade is that she wants to dedicate her life to cancer research and care. Today, she serves as the Community Outreach coordinator for LOWVELO, an annual cycling event benefitting MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Scheduled for Nov. 5, participants may choose from one of four routes, a virtual option or stationary cycling and join together with volunteers, researchers and the community to celebrate cancer survivors and those who have been lost to the disease.

“I admired a lot of the stuff that my mother did,” said Seward. “And that has absolutely influenced the way I live my life. It's part of the reason why I work for LOWVELO. She always told us that giving back to the community was so important; that we were born into a privileged life and that it was part of our job to make other people's lives better.”

A self-proclaimed “science nerd,” Seward knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in science. When her mother passed, she became fascinated with studying cancer and that changed everything. This past July, she received a master’s degree in biomedical science with a concentration in molecular cancer biology from the MUSC College of Graduate Studies. She spent her graduate years studying a therapy-resistant form of pediatric brain cancer called medulloblastoma.

Next year, Seward hopes to attend medical school to become a medical oncologist. “I saw how the loss of my mother changed my life in a lot of negative ways,” she said. “And I realized that in the positive ways it changed me, I could help prevent the negative for other people. That’s what really inspired me to do what I do. That’s the beautiful outcome of it.”

two young women in prom dresses pose with their mother 
Cara Seward with her sister, Haley Judd, and their mother, JodieAnn.

Seward calls her mother an angel who always tried to make other people smile, recalling that she found or made a gift to bring to the person who sat next to her every time she went in for chemotherapy.

“Losing someone who is such a good person at such a young age – I mean, she was only 50 – really makes you question how fair life is, but it also empowered me to do something about it,” said Seward. That’s exactly what Seward is doing through her work at MUSC and Hollings.

“Hollings has a unique situation in the sense that it’s the only NCI-designated cancer center in the state of South Carolina,” explained Seward. “So, the research that we're able to do really changes what people across the state have access to. I'm a very big believer that everyone should be able to experience the same level of cancer care because cancer isn't something that anyone chooses. It just happens. No one should be dying from cancer because they can't afford the proper therapies, or they don't have access to them.”

Seward knows that if there’s one thing cancer research needs, it’s an enormous amount of funding. One hundred percent of what participants raise for LOWVELO funds lifesaving research being done at Hollings. It’s the kind of research Seward thinks could prevent future cancer patients from experiencing all that her mother did.

“In my time studying cancer, I’ve really looked back at the types of therapies, diagnostics and pathology that my mom received when she was diagnosed,” said Seward. “We now have extremely good therapies for HER2-positive patients and they didn't even test for that back then. With HER2-positive breast cancer we were able to identify that marker, find a treatment for it and then put it in patients. It's had a huge impact on the outcomes of breast cancer.”

a woman stands in a jacket on a makeshift stage area and sings while two people in the background in bulky jackets place their hands over their hearts 
Cara Seward singing the national anthem at the 2021 LOWVELO.

Patients with breast cancers caught in early stages now have a very high survival rate, which is why Seward is glad to see better screening techniques being used and newer therapies being developed. “That's why I personally feel so passionate about cancer research because I've seen the difference in 10 years and what it can do if the funding is available,“ said Seward. “And so that's a huge reason why I’m so passionate about LOWVELO.”

Honoring her mother is something Seward tries to do every day. “If my mom was diagnosed today, there is a 90% chance she would have survived it,” Seward said. “I can't do anything about that but what I can control is how I help the patients who are diagnosed today and how I help the patients who are diagnosed tomorrow and five years from now. That's really what I try to focus on – learning from my experience with my mom and using it to motivate myself and others to support cancer research, donate to LOWVELO, ride with us, live a healthy lifestyle, exercise and be the healthiest versions of ourselves so that we're here for our loved ones.”