One of the more interesting aspects of being away from home during the school year is that I can see my family from a new perspective. My little brother becomes more of someone I need to protect and be proud of, especially when I hear of all his sports triumphs. My sister emerges as someone I can look up to, because as a soon-to-be college junior, she really does seem much older and wiser.

My parents are especially highlighted under the glow of distance. My mom can really be quite annoying sometimes, and it often feels nice to escape her college planning overload mindset. My father, though he is definitely mellower than my mom, tends to be hard on me about certain things, especially raising my SAT score and lowering my golf. I know that they only want the best for me, but they can definitely be bothersome. I am lucky to have them though, and through it all I love them. I really couldn’t imagine life without my parents.

Unfortunately, my roommate at school, Lara, knows the harsh reality of losing not just one parent, but both. I didn’t know Lara when she lost her mother. She was only 15 years old. It was the first day of high school when she received the news that she should report to the front office. Her father and brother were there, waiting to tell her that her mother had lost her battle with breast cancer. Lara pulled through this tragedy with grace with the help of her family.

We were initially just roommates, but this year, as juniors, we had also become very good friends. I was so heartbroken for her when Mrs. Elliott, our advisor and AP U.S. History teacher, came to our dorm during finals this May to break the news that her father didn’t have much longer to live; he was dying of cancer. We both cried as Lara packed her things and went home to Hayward, California, where two days later, her father passed away.

To help get her mind off things, we invited Lara to come spend some time with our family; she would be our summer sister. For someone who has never spent much time on the east coast, there is delight in discovering the Jersey Shore, riding too many roller coasters at Great Adventure, and tasting the unique flavors of our Garden State.

After seeing them through Lara’s eyes, I have a deeper appreciation for Stultz Farm sweet corn, fresh blueberries, plump Jersey tomatoes, and local ice cream. Before Lara came to stay with us, she’d never been to a Little League baseball game. After a month with us, she’s been to too many ballgames to count, including the championship game where she saw my brother’s team take first place.

We took her to New York to see her first show on Broadway, “In the Heights.” One of the leads loses her scholarship at Stanford, and though she initially lies to her parents, she realizes how much she loves them and how she wouldn’t know what to do without them. I felt a pang for Lara, who will have to discover her way in the world without her parents to guide her.

Cancer hit Lara’s family especially hard but no family seems immune to this disease. My “Big Aunt” — my mom’s uncle’s widow, died this past winter from secondhand lung cancer. The original lung cancer had taken her husband many years earlier. I was devastated when my eighth grade English teacher and writing mentor, Mrs. McCarthy, died from breast cancer. The disease and the fight against it, however, do not have to be so pessimistic. In fact, many inspirational survivors are beating cancer and helping others to do the same.

One of the best known cancer survivors today is Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France bike race, who won his battle against prostate cancer. He started the Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise money and awareness about cancer and people everywhere recognize the bright yellow Livestrong bracelet. The Livestrong Challenge is the Foundation’s signature fundraising event and on the weekend of August 21-22 people in cities all over America will bike, swim, run or walk to raise money to fight cancer.

My father will compete in the cycling portion of the event with Team La Forza, a local bike club that is riding that day. For my part, in honor of all the people I have known and loved who have passed away from cancer or have experienced it in some way, I am fundraising for Team La Forza and the Livestrong Challenge. My goal is to raise $1,000, which sounds like a lot, but will be a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to funding cancer research.

This summer I’ve been working at Cheeburger Cheeburger, the 1950s-themed restaurant on Route 1 in Lawrenceville. I love the atmosphere and I really couldn’t have asked for a better first job; the people are nice, the food is great, the mood is always cheerful, and the tip money is actually really good!

Everyone there, my co-workers, and especially the owner, John Lim, and the managers, Mike McCabe and Mary Johnson, are very generous and compassionate. Over the years they have hosted many fundraising events. I remember when they held one for my sister’s rowing club in high school.

They also held one for the Everybody Loves Kenny Project in honor of our friend and Plainsboro resident Kenny Baker, to raise money for mental health awareness. Now they have agreed to host another fundraising event in honor of the Livestrong Challenge. I will send out a fundraising flyer to everyone I know. On Wednesday, August 18, everyone should come out to Cheeburger, Cheeburger to eat a delicious meal and present that flyer with the check.

The restaurant will donate 20 percent back to the Livestrong Challenge. It’s a fabulous way to eat some great food and support an important cause at the same time.