Paris as Classroom

Course des Lumières

Students Go the Distance for Cancer Research

When you arrive at AUP, you become part of a tight-knit community – one that works together to support both its own members and friends and neighbors across the City of Light. Heather Strassel arrived at AUP for an MSc in International Management in January 2020 – just before the imposition of Covid-19 regulations across France. Two weeks into lockdown, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The AUP community rallied around her, supporting her at a distance with care packages and comfort food. “At any other university I would have had to drop out,” she says. “The fact that I was able to stay in France and not feel totally isolated speaks volumes about how much AUP community members care about each other.” 

Heather received radiotherapy treatment at the Institut Curie, one of the world’s leading cancer research organizations. Following her time in hospital, it was important to her to educate young women and men about breast cancer diagnosis and the institute’s work. “Cancer can be a scary word,” she says. “I wanted to bring awareness in a way that was fun.” She discovered La Course des Lumières, or “race of light,” a France-wide athletics initiative raising money for the Institut Curie. The 2021 Paris event took place on the evening of November 20 and saw participants either walk four kilometers or run ten kilometers along the banks of the Seine in solidarity with cancer survivors. Participants are provided with a light-up baton to carry throughout, symbolizing the movement’s aim of “lighting up the night against cancer.” 

Heather worked with breast health educator Madeleine Bell and the AUP CARES club, which focuses on cancer awareness, to provide an opportunity for community members to participate in the race. “We wanted to say to Paris, ‘Hi! We’re AUP. We stand in solidarity with people going through a difficult time,’” says Heather. The AUP Running Club got involved, as did Ashkan Shalbaf, AUP’s Coordinator of Physical Activity, Self-Care and Dance. The Student Government Association organized a discount on the registration fee for 25 people to take part under the banner of Team AUP. The Office of Communications organized team t-shirts. “It really brought together lots of different areas of AUP,” says Heather. 

Spots filled up quickly, and participants on the day included staff and faculty as well as students. Heather was thrilled by the high turnout: “One professor brought his wife and son. It was a really diverse group.” About half the participants chose to run, while the other half walked with Heather herself. The race’s starting line was in front of Paris’s Hôtel de Ville, where a participants’ village was set up; organizations and companies who had entered a team hosted information tents to share their work with fellow runners. Heather hopes that, in the future, AUP can further formalize its participation by hosting a tent to spread the word about its community of global explorers. “There was this great energy on the day,” says Heather. “I really hope we can make it an annual AUP event.”