Hakan is a Seattle area dentist and PhD student at the University of Washington. He earned is Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Society from the University of California, Los Angeles. Shortly after returning to his hometown in pursuit of a dental degree, his mother passed away from metastatic cancer. The loss inspired a new direction for his career as he enrolled in UW’s DDS/PhD program to study the molecular and genetic basis for oral, head, and neck cancers. Along this new path, he started the LiveSmyle Foundation to enhance cancer awareness and support local patients and families who face this disease. He currently works as a graduate student at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and enjoys soccer, skiing, and spicy food.
Yarenni is a compassionate advocate, leader, and proud daughter of a strong fighter of multiple myeloma. As an undergraduate student at Seattle Pacific University, she earned a biochemistry degree and became interested in the dental field while volunteering at a dental clinic in her spare time. Yarenni is currently working on her graduate degree in Public Health with a dental emphasis to further expand her knowledge of the dental healthcare system. Cancer became part of her daily life the spring of 2014 when her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. After Yarenni witnessed her mother go through the unimaginable with grace, she quickly became interested in supporting those who may be experiencing a similar situation as hers.
LiveSmyle was started by a student, Hakan Gem, as a platform for cancer awareness following the death of his mother, Dr. Tulay Kent (pictured above). He writes:
"There's this pervasive idea out there that humanity's primary relationship with cancer is that of war. To be perfectly honest, I've come to loath this way of thinking over time. The more I've reflected on my mother's personal experience in dealing with cancer and its treatment, the more I've realized how inappropriate this analogy is. Each appointment with the doctors resulted in either an advance or retreat on this metaphorical battlefield, as if to suggest that on days of bad news she simply had to fight harder to hear good news the next time. Now, for some people this metaphor can be invigorating and inspirational - and if this is the case for you or your loved ones, then by all means fight on. However, the more I looked around the barren waiting rooms of various cancer clinics and the more I spoke with other "battle-hardened" veterans of this disease, the more I learned that the idea of "fighting to the death" is neither uplifting nor inspiring. It's simply exhausting.
As a student in healthcare, I became deeply curious about the nature of this disease. What are the fundamental components of cancer that makes it such a challenging problem for doctors to solve? How is it that in the 21st century, an age when we have limitless information at our fingertips, we are constantly confounded by unexpected results between appointments? The questions kept rolling in, building on the momentum of previous frustration only to be clouded by the uncertainty of tomorrow. Watching a parent die is not an easy experience, and many of us have to face it at some point in our lives. And as difficult as that moment was for me, an insatiable curiosity simultaneously gripped my mind - How did we allow this to happen? The doctors, the nurses, the researchers, the greatest minds, our friends, our family, ME - Why were we incapable of stopping the insidious forward march of this unrelenting disease? A search for answers to questions like these - and many more - led to me to reconsider the relationship I wanted to have with cancer moving forward.
Much like the war on drugs, the war on cancer is being fought against an invisible and enigmatic enemy. Though this multi-decade cultural response has garnered tremendous support for cancer research and galvanized millions of individuals to take action, one simple look at today's cancer landscape immediately calls into question the progress we would have expected to make by now. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States and has steadily closed the gap on heart disease - the current leader. Many experts project cancer to overtake heart disease in the 21st century and become the leading cause of death not only in the US, but in the entire developed world.
So, if you want to understand what's actually happening here and explore this mystery at a deeper level, I invite you to change your relationship with cancer just as I have. Do not label cancer as the enemy or as the entity to fight against. Strive to understand the true nature of this disease and the impact it has had on the human race. A tall order, I know. But this is the mission of LiveSmyle - it's a platform for everyone to learn what defines cancer as a biological, historical, social, and political phenomenon. As the collective, public understanding of cancer is enhanced over time, I truly believe it will serve as the catalyst in overcoming one of the greatest challenges our species has ever faced.
What does it mean - LiveSmyle? One of the strongest and fondest memories I have of my mother is her beautiful smile - and no, not just because I'm a dental student! But because I remember how her smile had the power to uplift my emotions in the most profound way. No matter where, no matter when, it grounded me even during the toughest of times. Her ability to smile in the face of death and appreciate the life she lived inspired the name of this organization. LiveSmyle is a testament to the impact that a simple smile can have in our lives.
So join me on this quest, and let's learn together. Let's reshape our thinking of cancer and in doing so, evolve in our awareness of it. With enough momentum, we will take the steps necessary to prevent this destructive disease - and someday, cure it."