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Lorrin Rucker, Cassie Wilson and Orrin Rucker at the 2019 Miles for Moffitt

When Lorrin Rucker was called out of class unexpectedly, she assumed she had a doctor’s appointment. She walked to the car where her mom was waiting.

“We are praying for you,” one teacher told her.

Confused, she rode back to her house with her mom and brother in silence. When they got there, her mom handed Lorrin the television remote and told her to turn on the news.

It was Sept. 11, 2001.

Lorrin’s father, Orrin, worked on the 62nd floor of the second tower of the World Trade Center.  The cell towers in New York City were down, and his family waited for hours with no word.

Finally, the phone call they had been waiting for. Orrin had been late to work and just entering Ground Zero when the first tower collapsed. He was able to run for his life through the smoke and debris, and walked to Queens to a family member’s home.

Orrin was a survivor. But little did he know, he would have to face death once again. In 2014, he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer due to exposure at Ground Zero.

“What hurt him the most was that he thought he survived that day. And then for doctors to sit in front of him and tell him he was going to die of stage 4 cancer, he didn’t feel like a survivor,” said Lorrin. “He describes it like the Grim Reaper just gave him some time, and even though it wasn’t that day, he was still going to die.”

Orrin Rucker battled cancer at the same time as his niece, Cassie Wilson.

Orrin Rucker battled cancer at the same time as his niece, Cassie Wilson.

Given just a 25% chance of survival, Orrin began treatment at Moffitt to try and save his life. Just months after his diagnosis, Orrin’s three-year-old granddaughter, Cassie, was diagnosed with stage 2 ganglioneuroblastoma, a tumor that arises from nerve tissues, in her spine.

While Orrin underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Cassie fought her disease at a children’s hospital. Orrin’s care team at Moffitt sent Cassie cards and well wishes, and his family realized what an incredible support system the cancer center offered. To give back, they began volunteering at Miles for Moffitt in 2015.

Lorrin wanted to help more than once a year and found a job with Moffitt’s Foundation in 2020. She works closely with the George Edgecomb Society to help combat racial disparities and increase the Black community’s access to care.

“Cancer is a battle, no matter what race, creed or gender,” said Lorrin. “People of color have the highest death rate of cancer, and my role in the Foundation is to ensure that everyone has the armor of health equity to fight their battle.”

Orrin defied the odds once again and has been cancer free since September 2019; Cassie since December 2019. The family continues to volunteer at Miles for Moffitt every year, and after last year’s virtual event, is looking forward to returning to the in-person event this year.

Lorrin has a picture on her desk of her dad and Cassie, both bald from chemo, to serve as a reminder of their strength and to fuel her passion to help contribute to Moffitt’s mission.

“I hope my family’s experience serves as a testimony to Moffitt’s commitment to health equity,” she said.