Recently at Cancer for College…

Sunday, June 1, marked National Cancer Survivors Day, a day created to celebrate all cancer survivors and to inspire those newly diagnosed. With more than 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S. alone, there is cause for celebration. Sunday’s Los Angeles Times featured an article by Karen Kaplan on survivors, citing figures from a recent study by the American Cancer Society. Please click here to read the article in its entirety. Following are some highlights:

  • A cancer survivor is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still alive — meaning a person becomes a cancer survivor the moment they are diagnosed.
  • There are 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S.
  • In 2014, 64% of cancer survivors have lived at least five years since their diagnosis, and 15% of those have lived at least 20 years since diagnosis. 46% of those will see their 70th birthday.

Cancer for College has had a full season celebrating survivors in our own way. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Scholarship Application Review Nearly Complete

We received and processed 501 scholarship applications this year! Our dedicated committee members have spent the past few months reviewing and scoring applicant packages, and we are very close to announcing the recipients for the coming school year.

It is a continual source of inspiration to read the stories of young men and women who have faced so much in their young lives, yet come through with resiliency and enthusiasm. Read a post here about our scholarship review process.

Carolina Scholarships Awarded

May 16 marked our 4th annual Casino Night in the Carolinas event, and this year we were thrilled to award $46,000 in scholarship money to 15 college-bound cancer survivors. This event has proven so well supported by the Charlotte that this year we awarded the region’s first perpetual scholarship. Jacklyn Baillot, a rising freshman at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, will receive $4,000 per year for four years. She is an osteosarcoma survivor and plans to study biology.

Click here to see the full list of Carolina scholarship recipients, and join everyone at Cancer for College as we send all recipients best wishes for a great summer and fantastic school year to come.

Event chair Scott Sproule and recipient Kenna Holtzclaw NBC Charlotte.

Will Ferrell vs. Chad Smith Drum Off on The Tonight Show

You just have to see it:


The idea of a drum off was sparked innocently, and ended up garnering much attention for our charity and raising $150,000 for both Cancer for College and Chad Smith’s cause, Little Kids Rock.

We think you all rock!

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Survivor Spotlight: Danielle Gillespie

Danielle Gillespie is the type of young woman who catches your eye immediately. Maybe it’s her long, thick dark brown hair. Or her bright eyes and warm smile. Certainly it’s her radiant and friendly disposition. Nothing at all about Danielle, upon first meeting her, reveals another truth: that at just 26-years-old, she is brain cancer survivor.

Five years ago, in May 2009, Danielle, already a college graduate, was just three days into her nursing program. While driving from class — thankfully with other students she had met in her program — this healthy young woman with no prior warning signs, suffered a seizure.

“I started feeling weird,” Danielle explains. “I pulled over to the side of the road, a few houses before my own, took a drink of water, and that’s all I remember. I woke up to EMS taking me out of the car.”

An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the right front side of her brain. Further tests identified the mass as a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive malignancy more typically found in men over 60. Fortunately for Danielle, close to home was the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she became patient of their Hermelin Brain Tumor Center under the care of neuro-oncologist Dr. Tom Mikkelsen. “He is absolutely wonderful,” shares Danielle.

Her treatment began immediately, starting with a total resection craniotomy to remove the tumor at the end of May. Danielle spent just three nights in the hospital after her brain surgery, and went home to finish her four week recovery with nothing stronger than Tylenol 3 for her pain — a testament to her strength and grit. Once recovered, she began a six-week treatment of radiation and oral chemotherapy. The timing was just right.

“I finished chemo and radiation on a Monday,” recalls Danielle, “and I got married that Friday. I did this funky comb-over with my hair!” she remembers with a smile. Surgery and radiation were causing  her to lose her hair.

Danielle 1

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Following her wedding and a four-week break from treatment, Danielle’s chemotherapy continued for a year. She took that year off school, and returned to her nursing program in May 2010, just one year after diagnosis, Cancer for College scholarship in hand.  By May of 2011, Danielle was a college graduate, a wife and mom, a registered nurse, and a brain cancer survivor.

Danielle 2

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Danielle is approaching her five-year mark — an important milestone for survivors. We are so proud of her strength of character and her positive and generous spirit, and extremely honored to be a part of her journey.


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Celebrating Survivors, Desert Smash Style!

Will Ferrell. Kevin Spacey. Stan Wawrinka. Novak Djokovic. Two beloved actors and the world’s top two tennis players. Not to mention cancer survivors and past scholarship recipients — all coming together to support Cancer for College.

Last week, Palm Desert played host to the largest and longest fundraising effort ever for Cancer for College. I’m certain that I can speak on behalf of everyone at the charity when I say that The Desert Showdown was the most amazing, multi-event fundraiser that we’ve ever been a part of, raising nearly $1 million for our foundation. We are so thankful to everyone involved for making this incredible event a huge success!

The Desert Showdown

Let the showdown begin!
Image credit: Desert Smash Facebook page

Image credit: Desert Smash Facebook page

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Gathering with CFC scholarship recipients at La Quinta’s center court

Here’s a quick recap of events:

  • Day One: Speaker’s Forum and live auction event at Bighorn Golf Club with Will Ferrell and CFC Founder Craig Pollard, hosted by David Belasco, Co-Director, Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC Marshall School of Business. Survivor Christine Pechera shares her story.
  • Day Two: The Will Powered Golf Classic, Bighorn Golf Club.  Live auction hosted by Will Ferrell and featuring Kevin Spacey. Survivor and CFC Scholarship recipient Sarah Beth Comfort shares her story. Read more here about the Will Powered Golf Classic.
  • Day Three: 10th Annual Desert Smash featuring a variety of celebrities and tennis professionals for the morning’s Pro-Am and culminating in a showdown between Kevin Spacey and Stan Wawrinka vs. Will Ferrell and Novak Djokovic. More Desert Smash details here. Capped off by a great concert at Agua Caliente featuring Nelly, Redfoo and Boys II Men. Amazing!

Survivors Celebrate and Support the Cause!

Every single event was enhanced by the presence of Cancer for College scholarship recipients. We’d like to recognize and thank our two keynote speakers, Christine Pechera and Sarah Beth Comfort who shared their stories so eloquently.

And to the following recipients, a big thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to travel to the desert and volunteer for our events: Kelly Purcell, Kelli Vigorito, Spencer Paul, Allison Burgos, Agi Whittaker, Danielle Gillespie. Abby Houck, a recipient who we are fortunate to have on staff at Cancer for College. We are always so proud of you!

 Spotlighting Danielle

We want to give a big shout out to recipient Danielle Gillespie (and her sister Erin!) for coming out from Detroit on their own dime to work REALLY hard for us during this marathon event. Danielle, with her spunk and beauty, makes it hard to believe that just five years ago, she was fighting for her life. Danielle was days into her nursing program when she had a seizure, and an MRI revealed a golf-ball sized brain tumor. She went through brain surgery and chemotherapy, and today she is a happy and healthy nurse, wife and mother of two daughters. Her Cancer for College scholarship helped her finish her nursing program. We’ll be spotlighting her later this month.

Check out the Cancer for College and Desert Smash Facebook pages for more great event photos! Click here to watch a great piece on EXTRA!



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Facing Cancer Together: A Roadmap for Families, Part One

Part one in a series

Cancer is one of the more frightening words to attach to ourselves or someone we love. The best possible course of action upon hearing this diagnosis is to face it head on, together, armed with all facts possible. “Knowledge is power,” one of my favorite doctors told me. But while the patient fights for their life on the medical front, those close to the patient, including a spouse, siblings, parents and friends, have the challenge of supporting their loved one through this difficult and life-threatening disease.

For those of you with a loved one facing cancer right now, following are some ideas to provide support along the way. Do you have a great piece of caretaker advice to share? Please leave a comment at the end of the post. We’d love to hear from you.

Supporting Your Cancer Survivor 

Address the Issue: The impact of a cancer diagnosis is impossible to ignore. Best to face all issues head-on, in the open, with everyone involved. “Most people can handle the news that they have cancer, but each person needs time to adjust and figure out what the diagnosis means to them,” states a Cancer.Org article for families facing cancer. “If you are a family member trying to decide if you should tell a loved one they have cancer, consider this: you may think you are sparing them bad news, but they probably will sense something is wrong, especially if they start having a lot of tests done and/or don’t feel well. The person with cancer may resent it when they find out family members kept the diagnosis a secret. Although you may think you are protecting them, your loved one might see this as dishonest.”

Validate feelings: Your loved one will likely experience an overwhelming jumble of emotions: fear, anxiety, sadness, perhaps even indifference. Let them know they can share with you what’s on their mind, whatever that may be. Or not. “Keep in mind that not everyone with cancer wants to talk about their feelings,” continues the Cancer.Org article. “They may have other ways to express their emotions, and some people just prefer to keep their feelings private. People with cancer might just want you to help them maintain their normal routine as much as possible. Just be yourself and continue to do things with them as you would if they didn’t have cancer.”

Help the patient continue to work or attend school: Allow them to do as much as they desire, even if it’s just a little every day. Answering emails or checking in at the office, or keeping up with a class provides a distraction to medication timetables and hospital visits. Same goes for home-schooling or on-line education, as long as the workload is manageable and not an additional stress. Follow your patient’s lead on this one.

Heal with Humor: There is much truth to the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter really is healing. Research has shown that laughter can boost your immune system, decrease blood pressure and increase pain tolerance. Cancer Treatment Centers of America even offers laughter therapy. From their website: “Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health. After evaluating participants before and after a humorous event (i.e., a comedy video), studies have revealed that episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system in participants.”

Not to mention humor provides moments of joy during a serious and scary time in life for all involved in the patient’s care. Watch a funny movie, pick up a light book, even read aloud to your loved one, surf the web for humorous stories and outtakes. Schedule a visit with a lighthearted friend. Try to find something to enjoy every day that will bring a smile to your face or even incite a belly laugh.

For Kids in the Family 

Be honest without scaring them: Kids don’t need to know every detail, but they deserve the truth, as they will likely recognize that something serious is going on. Kids are much more resilient than adults sometimes give them credit for. Being open allows children to recognize and understand their own feelings. A hug or heartfelt get well card from a child will lift the patient’s spirits tremendously.

Maintain Normalcy: A cancer diagnosis immediately sets a new normal for all involved. If possible, maintain typical daily schedules or establish new routines. Don’t allow school attendance to lapse or forsake extracurricular activities. Although this might require advanced planning and assistance from others, it will be to everyone’s benefit. There is comfort in order and familiarity.

Coming soon: Part Two, For You, The Caregiver

Suggested Resources

National Cancer Institute: When Someone You Love is being Treated for Cancer

Cancer.Org: For Spouses, Families and Friends

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Last Call for Applicants 2014, and a Poetic (and Award-Winning!) Personal Statement

Last year during our scholarship selection process, I wrote down the name of a young lady who had submitted a very memorable personal statement in her application materials. I felt a connection to her and was hoping that, through the rigorous review process, she would emerge with a scholarship in the end.

The name I wrote down was Isabella Corcelli.  I loved the way her name rolled off my tongue. Isabella Corcelli, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma just three months before our scholarship application deadline. Isabella Corcelli, who was supposed to be enjoying her senior year of high school, but who was instead fighting a rare form of soft tissue cancer.  Isabella Corcelli who, despite her diagnosis, was determined to begin her freshman year of college in the fall as planned.

Isabella did receive a Cancer for College scholarship, and started school in the fall at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Recreational Management and Policy. 

With her blessing, we share her personal statement in its entirety. It’s both a touching piece of writing, shared from the heart of a young person facing a terrifying situation, and an excellent example of a unique and memorable personal statement. 

Girls high school Lacrosse games
Varsity and junior varsity
Swing starter, love the action
Pain on my side
Must be scoring too many goals
Yes, I can handle that!

Spring drama production, stage manager responsibilities
Ballroom dance showcases and competitions
Junior prom, limo, nails and hair
Pain on my side near my ribs
Must be working too hard
As part time frozen yogurt girl
Yes, I can handle that!

Summer time beach days
Backyard fires with smores
Cartwheel competitions on the grass
With my two brothers and my two best friends
Oooh pain on my side, time to call the doctor
Yes, I can handle that!

Pediatrician visits
Blood work drawn, use my right arm please
Ultrasound tests
Let’s go for some MRIs
And certainly a CAT scan
Yes, I can handle that!

Referrals to thoracic surgeon
A tumor between my 7th and 8th rib
Could be Schwannoma, could be benign
We agree it shouldn’t be there
This should be a simple operation
Yes, I can handle that!

It’s the start of senior year
Honors classes, stage manager
Promoted to barista at work
And schedule a surgery on Halloween
A whopping six hours from start to finish
Yes, I can handle that!

Cool November football games
Research papers and senior project due
Pathology results unexpected
Synovial sarcoma tumor
Who ever heard of this rare 1% cancer?
Yes, I can handle that!

My new vocabulary words are
Hematologist, oncologist, surgical oncologist,
Chemotherapy, rib replacement
Reproduction endocrinology
Don’t forget fertility preservation
Yes, I can handle that!

Thanksgiving turkey, high school football game
Doctors moving fast, chemo drugs are harsh
Fertility is in question, need to freeze the eggs
Let’s start the hormonal self-injections
Mix up the Bravelle and Menapur
Yes, I can handle that!

More MRIs, more CAT scans, more blood work
My veins are feeling tight, my diet is neutropenia
Four rounds of chemo are planned for weeklong stay at the hospital
Ifosfamide, Doxorubicin, Mesna, Compazine, Zofran Sodium Chloride, Neulasta, blood transfusions, blood platelets

Yes, I can handle that!

As of this writing I have experienced several surgeries and procedures, with more expected in the near future. I have scheduled countless doctor appointments, completed two rounds of chemotherapy, received wonderful medical care, pampered by excellent doctors, nurses, CAN’s and of course my family. Ever since I was a young girl, I aspired to become a pediatrician. Having witnessed the medical community first hand, I truly appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to provide not good care, but excellent care. I have also been grateful for the doctors and nurses encouraging me to pursue my career. Their advice, inspiration and practical tips have been invaluable. Add to that my personal dedication of maintaining high grades, National Honor Society, volunteer hours, part-time job, lacrosse and ballroom dancing. As you can tell, the opportunity to attend and afford college would be an honor to receive. I cannot wait to be able to help a young child someday knowing full well that I too, was a patient once.

Yes, I can handle that!

Isabella Corcelli

Note from Cancer for College: as of this posting in January 2014, one year after this statement was received in our office, Isabella Corcelli is now a cancer survivor. 

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Calling All Applicants 2014

January officially begins our scholarship season at Cancer for College! Applications are due postmarked January 31, so we are rapidly approaching the deadline. If you know or are a cancer patient or survivor, currently attending college or planning to in the fall, and would like to apply for a scholarship, please click here for the application details.

In the early years of our charity, it was difficult to find applicants. We had to make personal contact with hospital social work departments, and hope they would get our information into the hands of eligible students.

That changed with the internet. To date we have processed thousands of applications. Last year alone we received nearly 500 applications from cancer survivors around the country and awarded just over $100,000 to 60 recipients. Applications go through several stages of review by our evaluation committee, consisting of about 10 members with longstanding ties to Cancer for College, three of whom are past scholarship recipients. 

How can you submit a winning application? Following are tips to help your application stand out from the others.

Christina big chek

Send us a complete application with all required pieces of the puzzle, in the correct order as specified. This one seems obvious, but every year, we are forced to set aside incomplete applications. As heartbreaking as this is to say, applications missing information are not even reviewed. The very first step in processing applications is to ensure all materials requested are present. If one piece is missing, for example, if there is only one letter of recommendation instead of two, that application is immediately set aside. That student’s review process is over before it even begins. Doing this is very difficult for all of us on the review committee, because we know that each application packet represents a person who has gone through trials that no one, particularly someone so young, should have to experience. 

On the flip side, please do not clutter your packet with more information than requested — extra letters of recommendation, news articles, pages and pages of transcripts (we just need an official cumulative GPA verification). The selection process is time-consuming for our committee — most of whom are volunteers with families, careers and additional commitments — so wading through too much information to get to what we need becomes frustrating.

Write a compelling personal statement which addresses the topic prompt while helping us get to know you and your individual situation. Some personal statements leave us wanting to know more. Some fail to paint a picture of the applicant themselves. Your personal statement is your big chance to really allow us to get to know you. This is your time to spotlight your story, and share your goals for college and beyond.

Personal statements are very influential in the evaluation process. All complete applications undergo an initial review of the personal statements, a “round one” evaluation. Some applications do not make it beyond this point. But a great majority do move on the next step, the committee round table review. As a team, and over a course of several weeks, the review committee reads aloud every personal statement, and scores the application together.

“A winning scholarship essay is one that truly sets a particular applicant apart from the others,” says in their article “Top 10 Tips for Writing Effective Scholarship Essays.” “If you tell your story clearly and persuasively, you might just find yourself receiving a congratulatory letter from the scholarship committee!”

We know at Cancer for College that many applicants are stricken with cancer during their high school years, causing a ripple effect on their grades and participation in activities. We account for this in our evaluation process. We are not looking for students with the highest grades or the most activities in school, although those details are considered. We are also impressed by applicants who have taken their experience and turned it into a positive, using their situation to influence others and make a difference.

Choose your letters of recommendation wisely.  A medical reference is required, on official letterhead, as we need it to verify status as a cancer patient. Some doctors do just that, a few sentences confirming patient status and dates of treatment. Others go into deeper detail, sharing positive traits of the patient and offering specifics on why this patient should receive a scholarship. While you may not have much control over this, please give careful consideration to whom you ask to write your recommendation. Find someone who knows you well and is willing elaborate on your positive qualities.

We ask for two letters, with at least one of them being from a doctor who provided treatment. The second letter is from a person of your choosing, but can still be a part of your medical treatment team. Many applicants submit their second letters from a teacher, principal, church leader or family friend.

Letters of recommendation are often consulted or read aloud during our committee round table evaluations, particularly if the personal statement leaves us wanting more. These written testimonies can be influential in the decision-making process, as they provide another avenue for the committee to find a sense of who you are.

Each one of our applicants is a unique, vibrant young man or woman who has survived a difficult journey. Back in the early days of Cancer for College, we had a small enough applicant pool that everyone who applied received funding. We certainly wish we could still say this. Actually, the number one item on our wish list is that modern medicine would one day make a scholarship for cancer survivors obsolete. Until that time, we hope that these application tips are useful, we wish you all good health and good luck.

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In the Spirit of Giving

In working closely with cancer survivors, we are reminded of life’s fragile and fleeting nature.

A typical day at Cancer for College is pretty familiar with the steady hum of any office — phone calls, emails, meetings. But every so often the ordinary details are halted, and we are reminded instantly of how truly precious is the world around us. One such email we received last week, from Dan Weishar, a 20-year-old college student.

“You may recognize my brother’s name, Andrew Weishar, because he was a recipient of the Cancer for College scholarship in 2011,” writes Dan. “Unfortunately, upon receipt of the award, Andrew quickly learned that his cancer recurred and he was unable to return to school. After an incredibly inspirational battle, Andrew passed on October 12, 2012. Andrew asked very little of any of us, however, before he passed, the one request he did have for my family and I was to pay forward the kindness and generosity that we received so much of during his battle. To honor his only request, I created the Andrew Weishar Foundation.”

With the mission to financially support families stricken with the burdens of cancer, Cancer for College is one of the foundation’s beneficiaries, starting with a $1,000 donation to our fund.

We were all extremely moved by this news, and awestruck that Andrew’s last request was simply to pay it forward. What a testament to the strength and character of this young man and his family. Please take a moment to read more about Andrew, his battle with colon cancer, and the foundation created to honor his legacy at

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As mentioned before on this blog, most survivors express a strong desire to give back. “I have come to terms with how much has changed for me,” says survivor Annika Dybevik. “I truly believe this horrible thing happened because I was meant to do something different with my life.”

Many become active in volunteer work. Some switch change career paths mid-stream. Others are moved to launch their own foundations, and work hard to keep those organizations active in addition to their college course load. Following are some of the foundations created by our 2013 scholarship recipients.

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Hope in a Blanket founded by Annika Dybevik

Annika shares that one of her passions is raising money for cancer research and support, and has remained active doing so for the American Cancer Society and Northwest Sarcoma Foundation.

“I also found I wanted to stay connected on a personal level with kids going through cancer,” she continues, “so a friend and I started a non-profit called Hope in a Blanket.” Annika’s group provides fleece blankets for sarcoma patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “The blankets are cheerful, vivid and loud. They instantly brighten the mood of a child in treatment. These blankets are a small thing in a long journey for kids with cancer, but they are like warm hugs and important reminders that other kids think of them and care.”

Annika, diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at age 13, is now a freshman at Cal Lutheran, where she is studying Theater Arts. Hope in a Blanket is still going strong, and Annika plans to deliver blankets when she is home on break this winter.

Kaely’s Kindness founded by Kaely Kwitek

Kaely established her organization in 2012, with the mission to help teen girls with cancer with their unique emotional, physical and practical needs. Kaely’s Kindness also provides an opportunity for girls — all with the shared struggle of being a teenage cancer patient — to meet up and relate to each other.

“I am thrilled to report that Kaely’s Kindness continues to help teen girls with cancer,” Kaely writes from the University of Albany. “Currently we are assisting 16 girls and their families. Events include monthly dinners, spa days and functions which assist them with their social and emotional needs.  When I am home for breaks I meet with the girls and we continue doing the work we are doing.”

At 16 years old, Kaely was diagnosed with stage 4 anaplastic large cell lymphoma. “My goal and plan for a business degree (and eventual MBA)  is so that I can manage this organization and ensure its sustainability.” Click here to learn more about Kaely’s Kindness.

The Kendra Steinmetz Foundation founded by Kendra Steinmetz

This UCLA freshman is cancer-free after being diagnosed at age 13 with Hepatoblastoma, an uncommon liver cancer. Kendra was moved to create her foundation after her dear friend, Jarren, lost his battle with Hepatoblastoma at just four years old. “Jarren inspired me to always strive to do the best that I can do in everything. He taught me that you can never stop fighting or trying hard for what you want. Sometimes you may fall, but you must always get back up and keep fighting…. I don’t want to see kids like him suffer any longer and I want to make a change in the world by helping to find a cure for cancer.”

Kendra’s foundation, raises money and awareness for pediatric cancer research, the most underfunded of all cancer research groups.

Cuck Fancer. founded by Ben Teller

Ben is a longtime friend of Cancer for College, and scholarship recipient in 2010 and 2011. Ben is a three-time cancer survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — he was diagnosed at 18, 21 and 22.

During his first bout with Hodgkin’s, he launched Cuck Fancer. with the mission dedicated to raising awareness by helping young adult cancer survivors get their feet back on the ground.

Cuck Fancer. will contribute anything necessary so young adult survivors can get their feet back on the ground: Rent, tuition, school supplies, car payments or medical bills. Cuck Fancer. strives to eliminate obstacles in any way possible so young adult cancer survivors can move forward in their lives with a sense of purpose. Find more details on Ben and his mission by clicking here.

We especially honor these young cancer survivors who embody the spirit of giving throughout the year. Happy Holidays to you and your families from all of us here at Cancer for College.

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