Steven West receives President’s Volunteer Service Award
Monday, March 7, 2022
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Oklahoma State University faculty member Steven West was recently awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work with the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. The instructor of professional practice in the OSU School of Hospitality and Tourism Management was recognized at the foundation’s national conference in Salt Lake City.
The award was created in 2003 to recognize the important role of volunteers throughout America. It honors people whose service positively impacts communities throughout the nation and inspires others. The President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) has continued under each administration, honoring volunteers who are using their time and talents to solve the challenges facing our nation.
“The award was a surprise for me,” said West, who volunteers in several roles with the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. “I do what I do to help other families, not to get a medal. It certainly feels good to get recognized, but it feels better to know that you are helping someone navigate through an unfamiliar area in their life and to give them hope when perhaps they felt there was no hope.”
West was diagnosed with the rare form of cholangiocarcinoma, fighting and winning the battle against the cancer three times in seven years, including twice in the last 18 months. He was cancer free for five-plus years before it returned in 2020-21. Around 200 forms of cancer are defined as rare, according to the Rare Cancers Research Program, and those cancers form around 25 percent of all U.S. cancers diagnosed. The survival rate for cholangiocarcinoma is about 10%, West said.
West’s research and experience advocating for his own care over the years gave him first-hand knowledge about what patients and their families face when confronting cancer. His struggle led to him being invited to volunteer on a research advocacy committee made up of patients and caregivers that are focused on the research of cholangiocarcinoma. On the committee, he works with doctors and researchers on patient advisory boards to design clinical trials and participates on advisory boards with industry companies and pharmaceutical companies.
He also volunteers through the foundation to be a mentor to newly diagnosed patients. With cholangiocarcinoma being such a rare disease, new patients may never meet another person who has the disease. As a mentor, West reaches out to newly diagnosed patients and shares his knowledge while providing hope through his battle with cancer.
“This could be discussing new drugs or trials that their doctors may not be aware of, to encouraging them to acquire next generation sequencing (NGS) of their tumor tissue to explore possible immunotherapies, or targeted therapies specific to their genomic makeup,” said West, who has more than 20 years of experience working in the hospitality industry and teaching in colleges and universities around the world. “The mentorship can be anything from an email or two, to a life-long partnership depending on what the newly diagnosed patient feels they need.”
West says receiving the award is meaningful but does not compare to the joy he receives from helping others during the most trying time of their life.
“I just had an email earlier today from a person I mentor, and she recently had a clean scan with no evidence of disease,” he said. “Just reading that and knowing maybe I had a hand in helping her navigate through the complexities of this disease is better than any medal.”
Steven West with the OSU School of Hopsitality and Tourism Management (fifth from left) was one of several people honored with the President's Volunteer Service Award.