Cara Lasala.

Never Give In


Cara Lasala
M.A. in Strategic Public Relations

Freshman year of high school is awkward and challenging for any 14 year-old, especially when within days of each other your grandfather passes away and your dad is diagnosed with cancer. Even at that young age, I made a conscious decision that I would someday work in cancer research, awareness, or advocacy so that I could make a positive difference for the men and women affected by disease. 

Life after college can be a rough transition as you adjust to the unknown world of free time without papers, midterms and final presentations. It can also be especially difficult managing your first “big girl” job while also dealing with your dad’s recurring Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Between chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and too many miles spent traveling to the City of Hope Hospital, you realize that life is precious and that every person has a responsibility to make a difference in his/her own way. More important, you learn to remain positive and set goals.

In 2010, after spending two years with the Orange County United Way as both the marketing specialist and public relations manager, a job posting pinged my inbox -- senior public relations specialist and web writer at the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica. I knew no one with prostate cancer, but with a degree in public relations and two years of marketing experience, I took a chance and applied, taking a step toward a goal that I had set one decade earlier.

I have now worked for the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) for two and a half years, and I can probably tell you more about a prostate than you would ever want to know. This knowledge, coupled with my education from USC in the Strategic Public Relations (SPR) graduate program, has enhanced my role, responsibilities, and true understanding of public relations.

In the SPR program, we expand our understanding of audiences, messages, and creative strategies that blend the two. We learn that innovative campaigns are about more than social media, more than just building website traffic, and more than simply posting a story online. We learn that effective, meaningful communication is engaging.  

At PCF, engaging with researchers, donors, patients, and caregivers is a part of my daily role. We fund hundreds of the brightest, most motivated and inspiring prostate cancer researchers around the globe. Their work comes to PCF as highly clinical, technical content, requiring translation into terms that a man who was just told he has prostate cancer can understand and use to make informed decisions about his prostate cancer care.

Making this content meaningful and relatable is my biggest challenge, but it’s also the most rewarding. The content represents more than just words -- it gives hope to men and their families who face the realization that life is short and that time on this earth is precious. Whether research is conducted through mice samples or a Phase III clinical trial, the prospect of progress within the research community is by far the best part of my job.

Between writing website content, conversing on social media, creating media documents, and tracking the daily news cycle, I also have the pleasure of traveling to scientific conferences, events on Capitol Hill, and athletic fundraising events across the country -- all in the name of finding a cure for prostate cancer.    

Though we haven’t discovered a cure for the disease yet, we’re getting closer. I’m still holding out for a cure for my dad, too. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has reared its aggressive head again, attacking my dad for a third time. Lucky for him, our family, and the thousands of other families facing similar battles, cancer research is progressing and making great strides.

Young professionals and students like you and me who graduate from top universities have an incredible opportunity to play a key role when it comes to influencing change and accelerating progress in a variety of fields. Whatever you end up pursuing post-graduation, find something that you’re passionate about and make a lifelong commitment to it. Don’t underestimate your ability to make a real difference in the lives of those who need help the most. Life is too short to play it safe, so embrace change, take some risks, and never forget about the people who helped you along the way.