Rock Steady

By the end of this summer, 33 year old ,Deja Nicolas will have served 16 years in the Army (14 years of active duty and two years in the Reserves). She’ll also have applied to medical school, and will no doubt be preparing to start as a medical student next fall. When I met with her a few weeks ago to talk about the 2023 ,Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon and being a Legacy of Hope sponsored athlete, I was struck by the positive energy she exudes. Deja’s vibe is one of rock steady confidence, poise, focus, gratitude and persistence.

Originally from Queens, NYC, Deja grew up in a single parent household, relocating a lot as a child. She knows she wasn’t dealt an easy hand in life, but matter-of-factly asserts “it’s not about the hand you’re dealt, it’s what you do with those cards. That’s been my story consistently. If I show up and feel somewhat disadvantaged, I find a way. I’m always asking: How can I be optimistic? How can I make this work? How can I create a community? Although I might not have the means at a given moment—how can I contribute even if my cup might be empty?” Her story bears that out.

Deja always wanted to go into medicine. Her mother is a nurse, which likely cultivated her interest in healthcare. As a teen, Deja attended a health-sciences enrichment camp to start her journey toward healthcare. That journey took an unfortunate but significant turn when she was just 18 years old; she lost her first child to a fetal anomaly but she also shares “I didn’t receive adequate prenatal care. That was a testimony in itself, which strengthened my will.” The day after graduating high school, at age 17, she enlisted in the Army, and over the course of 14 years of active duty, during which she has worked as a communications sergeant and a medical service corps officer leading to promotions to the rank of Captain. This ,Bronze Star medal recipient has served in over ten duty locations, including deployments to Afghanistan. Her most recent overseas relocation was from Germany to Philadelphia. She is currently enrolled full-time in Thomas Jefferson University’s post baccalaureate pre-med program which she completes in April. Deja is also a proud alumna of Fayetteville State University, a Historically Black College and University, located in Fayetteville, NC. Jefferson’s program wasn’t the only thing that drew Deja to Philly. Philly’s running community was also a big draw. The post-bac program director knew about her love for running, even used it as a carrot to help sway her decision, stating “We have so many running clubs here.” Her first year in Philly, Deja ran with several of Philly’s abundant run clubs. “I’m grateful to be in a city like Philadelphia where it’s small but big. There’s a lot of networking and everyone takes care of each other. There is no place you can go in this city where there’s not a point of contact to run.”

Upon relocating to Philly in July of 2021, Deja took on the challenge of running her first marathon—the Philadelphia Marathon. She completed it but sustained a hamstring injury and had to take eight months off. “So I had to learn how to run the proper way, dial in my body mechanics. And here I am tackling a half marathon. I’m convinced that I had injuries leading up to the marathon and that the race put things over the edge.” But, like most runners confronting potential injury, the endorphins and need to run precluded common sense and she kept pushing, ultimately landing in physical therapy. “Recovery took a full eight months, and I came back stronger. Everything feels great and I’m able to listen to my body a lot more. I had to learn everything all over again. Being a student, and studying for 12 to 14 hours a day, I was sitting on the [hamstring] injury which didn’t help.”

Deja’s fitness journey started with her being very active as a child. “I played tennis, I danced, ran track, and played basketball.” She credits the military with helping to hone her fitness skills and “to actually learn how to run.” She typically runs four days a week, with a current mileage of about 10 to 12 miles, which she recently bumped up to 15 to 20 miles in preparation for the Love Run, which she’s aiming to complete in under two hours.

Deja finds her inspiration in multiple places. First and foremost, she’s inspired by her mother and [recently deceased] grandmother. “Those two were the most inspirational. And then being in the military being able to stand on the shoulders of giants—we have our Army Surgeon General, who is the first black medical Service Corps officer fulfilling the highest role in Army Medicine.. He has destroyed barriers and boundaries, giving those that are underrepresented a chance to achieve the highest ranks not only in the Army but in medicine as well. While there are many inspiring people—being in church, exercising my faith, that’s my true inspiration as well.”

Deja found Legacy of Hope through Instagram, and our mission and purpose resonated with her. “Cancer is no stranger to me. I lost an aunt to cancer late last year; of the deaths in my family, I would say 90% of them have been cancer related.” Deja also does cancer research at Thomas Jefferson University. She knows from firsthand experience that cancer’s devastating ripple effects are often overlooked because attention is so focused on patient treatment or recovery; so simple things like getting to the grocery store or even being able to afford food often become problematic.

Selfless service seems to be another driving force for Deja. With thousands of volunteer hours in countless communities, she still drills with the military; she is an intern with Cooper University’s HealthCare Military, Diplomatic, and Field Surgical Affairs Team; she plans to work with ,Soar Detroit, a literacy program designed to help Detroit’s children read at grade level; she also gives her time to ,Black Health Connect, an organization that brings black healthcare professionals together to connect with the community; she works with an organization for the historically black colleges and universities to expose children to those opportunities, and also presents scholarships. “We have to give back to the kids in the community so that we can pave the way forward. ”

She practices gratitude regularly. “How can you multiply and magnify what you have, and help people along the way? It’s about knowing the importance of being resilient, persevering, and understanding that somebody has it worse. Ultimately, it’s all about mindset. Mindset leads to discipline and perseverance which enable us to tap into tools and resources.” Legacy is beyond grateful that Deja is harnessing her amazing energy in order to help our emergency patient support network. You can ,support Deja’s fundraising efforts here. Or soak up some of her positive energy in person as you run 13.1 miles with her. Register at ,Philly Runs Free—and you can run for free when you raise just $250 for Legacy of Hope.

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Dr. Claudia Capparelli, PhD

Affiliations: Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center

Education: PhD, University of Calabria, Cosenza, Italy – 2011

Focus & Impact:  Focus on the role of the SOX10 transcription factor with regard to tumor cell heterogeneity and plasticity across multiple genotypes in melanoma. Investigating how SOX10 plasticity/heterogeneity affects the response to MEKi and anti-ErbB3 combinations in WT BRAF melanoma patients. 

Publications: Publications Link

Honors & Awards:

  • Legacy of Hope Merit Award

  • Outrun the Sun Melanoma Research Scholar Award

  • Unical Fellowship Visiting Scholar

  • International Pigment Cell Conference Travel Award

  • Best Poster Presentation, Ninth Annual Jefferson Post-doctoral Research

  • INPDAP Fellowship for Student Merit 

  • University of Calabria Fellowships for Student Merit 

Dr. Qing Chen, M.D., Ph.D.

Affiliations: The Wistar Institute, The Chen Laboratory, University of Maryland

Education: PhD,Immunology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, State University of New York at Buffalo (Dean’s Award for outstanding dissertation) – 2006

Focus & Impact:  Focus is on the molecular mechanisms of brain metastasis originating from primary tumors like breast cancer, and the interplay between cancer cells and the stromal cells that populate the brain microenvironment. 

Publications: Publications Link

Honors & Awards​:

  • Legacy of Hope Merit Award

  • Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis Foundation for Health and Policy Award

  • Susan G. Komen, CCR Basic/Translational and Clinical application

  • The V Foundation for Cancer Research Award

  • Dissertation Research Award, Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 

Nia Andrews

Bio Coming Soon

Rebecca Blinn

Bio Coming Soon

Carol Sollenberger

Bio Coming Soon

Maree Lavo

Bio Coming Soon

Bryan Lathrop

Bio Coming Soon

Kimberly S. Reed

An award winning international speaker, author, corporate trainer and diversity, equality and inclusion executive, nationally recognized thought leader, expert, strategist and advisor to some of the world’s most influential organizations in global professional services, health care, financial services, consumer products and pharmaceutical industries.

Kimberly is a seasoned leader in transforming organizations into high-performing enterprises and challenging leaders to live without limits, with more than 20 years of HR, talent acquisition, and diversity & inclusion experience; successfully turning around troubled diversity practices by designing, building, leading, and shaping high-performing cultures at global organizations with robust strategies, global employee development programs and enterprise-wide initiatives that have increased revenue growth and organizational brand eminence.

Michele Redrow

Michele is a Director on the Legacy of Hope board and also serves on the Executive Committee.

mary chicorelli

Professional:  Mary is a certified city planner for Philadelphia, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association as well as the Philadelphia Bar Association, and the Pro Bono Honor Roll First Judicial District of Philadelphia.

Bio: Mary’s insight into the legal world is invaluable to Legacy of Hope, both in keeping our daily operations moving fluidly as well as making connections for our patients and their families when needed.

“Michael reached out to me about 2 years ago through mutual friends. We worked together to help a woman with stage 4 cancer get her electricity turned back on after it was shut off during the winter. I’ve been 100% supportive of Mike’s vision since then.”

joseph ruggieri, jr

Education: Bachelor’s of Science from West Chester University in Management and Finance

Bio: As a member of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.’s upper management team, Joseph brings a wealth of knowledge regarding finances, management, team-building and planning to the Legacy of Hope board. Joseph linked up with Michael, our President, and Wells Fargo began supporting Legacy of Hope annually.

“My father passed away from what started as Colon Cancer in 2015. Cancer is horrible and if there is something I can do to help others impacted I would want to be a part of it.”

David April

David is the founder of the Fishtown Beer Runners, an organization with chapters all over the world based here in Philadelphia.

dr. kevin kelly

Dr. Kevin Kelly leads Legacy of Hope’s Scientific Review Board to seek out and support the most promising cancer research in Philadelphia using a merit-based system.  He is Jefferson’s Director of Solid Tumor Oncology.

greg garber

Greg Garber is the director of Oncology Support Services at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

Gina Mancuso

Gina’s experience as the very successful co-owner of CoreFitness, LLC coupled with her expertise in planning special events makes her the perfect Vice President for Legacy of Hope. With energy, passion, and drive that makes her seem superhuman, Gina’s connection to our mission is a personal one.

“Both my father and my dear childhood friend were diagnosed with cancer within 3 months of one another. They were surrounded and supported by friends and family throughout their battle and until their passing. No one should suffer through a diagnosis alone and, without Legacy of Hope, some people would do just that.”

Michael Rowe

Awards:

Volatile Media Management’s Mover, Shaker, Changemaker Award – February 2017

Miles Mack Community Services & Leadership Honorable Mention – 2016 TJUH Emergency Department Technician of the Year, Physicians Choice Award – 2015

TJUH Emergency Department Technician of the Year, Physicians Choice Award – 2014

Bio:

With his free time so limited, Michael manages to fuse his work with his other passion: running. Whether it is with the Fishtown Beer Runners, our own Team Relentless Hope, or his closest friends, Michael can often be spotted on the streets of Philadelphia keeping himself fit and active.