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Upstate medical student earns New York Senate commendation for brain cancer advocacy

Nneka Onwumere, a third-year student in the Norton College of Medicine, has been awarded a New York Senate commendation by State Sen. Rachel May in recognition of Onwumere’s organization of the area’s first brain cancer research walk.

The Central New York Walk for Brain Cancer Research at Upstate was first held May 8 in 2022, and again this year on May 21. Money raised by the walk benefits the Debbie’s Brain Cancer Research Fund with the Upstate Foundation.

May spoke of how Orwumere was able to coordinate the walk while juggling her demanding requirements of being a medical student. “When someone can do remarkable volunteer intervention in the community, that is pretty incredible,” May said. “We are here to recognize her for being who she is, and for being able to raise awareness of brain cancer and the need for more research in this area.”

Orwumere held the first walk on Mother’s Day in tribute to her mother, Elsweta Gordon, who helped spark her interest in the field of neurology and later, Gordon’s own health issues that solidified Onwumere’s resolve to become a doctor.

“My mother’s experience reminded me of what I could be,” Onwumere said. “It reminded me of what I should be trying to do. It reminded me that I could possibly make a difference instead of giving up. I am very grateful Upstate gave me a chance.”

The walks are supported by the Upstate Medical University Chapters of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), Colleges Against Cancer (CAC), Medicine in Motion and Upstate Wishmakers on Campus.

There are more than 150 types of brain tumors, and more than 20,000 adults are diagnosed with them annually according to the National Cancer Institute. According to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, approximately 4,200 children are diagnosed annually with brain tumors in the United States.

Debbie’s Brain Cancer Research Fund was started by a Debbie Gregg of Cazenovia in honor of her doctor at Upstate after she was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive brain tumor and she died in 2012.

Caption: Upstate medical student Nneka Onwumere receives a New York Senate commendation for her brain cancer advocacy work. Flanking her are State Sen. Rachel May and Upstate President Mantosh Dewan, MD.