1. Archive

Joining fight on cancer at early age

Jenna Kahn has had an impressive career.

Last year, she began analyzing the effects of radiation therapy on silicone breast implants for the University of South Florida's Department of Engineering.

For the past two years, she has volunteered at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center studying the side effects of using chemotherapy and radiation therapy together on senior citizens. She wants to find out if it's too toxic. (So far, it's not, she says).

She also helps patients and doctors at the Judeo Christian Health Clinic.

By the way, Jenna is a 17-year-old senior at Plant High School.

"It's really rewarding," she said of her extracurricular research. "Knowing that I'm able to help other people, that I could find something that no one else knows. It's just the feeling."

A few short years ago, cancer was far from Jenna's mind. It took a visit to Moffitt delivering teddy bears collected at a mother/daughter tea and a run-in with an advanced colon cancer patient to make it her priority.

The patient "stopped me in my tracks, took my breath away and made me cry," she wrote in her college application essay. "He left me sad, then mad, then determined. . . . We learned that he had only one month to live. My heart sank, and then broke. I made up my mind right then that I had to do something about this horrible disease."

Overnight, she got involved as a volunteer. She spends several hours a week conducting research and helping at the Judeo Christian clinic.

Jenna hopes to become a doctor specializing in breast cancer treatment because it appeals to her as a woman, she says. October marked Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Babu Zachariah, a doctor at Moffitt and the veterans hospital who supervises Jenna, called the teen hard-working and determined.

"She's motivated to do some work to get to the level she wants to be," she said.

Jenna, who lives on Davis Islands with her parents, Susan and Randy, and her two sisters, takes six advanced placement courses and boasts a 5.8 grade point average. She spends about five hours a night on homework.

To relieve the pressures of school and volunteer work, she hits the water as a member of Plant's crew team.

"I love to row," Jenna said. "It's so peaceful and calm out on the water. Every aspect is so enjoyable. I also get to connect with the team. It can be a single sport, and it can also be a team sport."

She has applied for early decision at Brown University's accelerated medical school program. Until then, she will continue her research and volunteer work.

Seeing cancer patients really touched her, she said. "I wanted to try to help out any way I could."

_ Rob Brannon can be reached at 226-3434 or

In just one of her volunteer roles, Jenna Kahn, right, listens as Sildena Espinel, center, explains that the arm of her niece Daniela Espinel, left, has been swelling recently. This occurred during Kahn's weekly volunteer stint at the Judeo Christian Health Clinic.