A Labor of Love

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Two sisters continue raising funds for cancer research at UCLA in memory of their mother

Corbera Rebecca, Nilsson Alexandra
Alexandra Nilsson, president (right) and Rebecca Corbera, vice president

Two sisters are on a heartfelt mission to continue the philanthropic work of their late mother, who was passionate about raising funds for cancer research at the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation at UCLA.

Ruth Corbera was introduced to the San Fernando Valley (SFV) Guild in 1997 by a friend, and after seeing the comradery and deep commitment to supporting cancer breakthroughs at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, she quickly joined. The Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation (JCCF) is the fundraising arm of the Jonsson Cancer Center, and supports leading-edge cancer research at UCLA.

Ruth’s daughters, Alexandra Nilsson and Rebecca Corbera, said she helped at every event and was known for making extravagant decorations for the holiday fundraiser.

“She had a fiery attitude, was very creative and passionate about this organization,” Rebecca said.

In 2011, Ruth was diagnosed with late-stage acute lymphoblastic leukemia and she immediately began treatment at UCLA. But just two months after her initial diagnosis, the 54-year-old lost her battle to the disease.

“Our mother received the best care possible at UCLA and her oncologist treated the cancer aggressively,” Alexandra said. “Unfortunately the cancer was too advanced and she was unable to fight the disease.”

Ruth Corbera and her daughters

As a tribute to their mother, Alexandra and Rebecca decided to not only join the guild but help run it, and were elected president and vice president. Their continued goal is to recruit younger members so they too will be educated about the importance of fundraising for a cause that is likely to impact their lives. One day these new members can also hopefully say they helped fund cures for cancer.

“We always spent time helping my mom at the guild events,” said Rebecca. “After she passed we felt it was a great way to honor her and to really educate ourselves on finding ways to help raise funds for cancer research.” The guild has 43 members and was formed more than 60 years ago. So far it has raised more than $865,000, which has helped fund seed grants and other programs at the JCCF.

Seed grants are vital to the cancer center's ongoing leadership in the field of cancer research. They illustrate the very real impact that benefactors can have on the cancer center's mission. If the data from the scientist’s research bears out their theories, they stand a good chance of obtaining long-term federal or foundation funding to continue their work and translate it into improved therapies.

“The guild is a great way for people to get involved, learn more about cancer, raise awareness and know where the money is going,” Alexandra said.

The sisters also have full-time jobs, Alexandra handles worldwide pre-release screenings and anti-piracy security for Paramount Pictures, and Rebecca is a sales assistant for Stony Apparel, a clothing manufacturing company geared towards young women. She explains why they believe their guild stands out above the rest.

San Fernando Valley Guild members

“For our luncheon we invite a patient who has been treated by UCLA to speak so our members and guests can connect with someone who is benefiting from our fundraising work,” Alexandra said.

Alexandra and Rebecca are working hard this year to surpass their current fundraising total by raising more than $1 million. The sisters know deep down in their hearts that their mother would be proud of all that they have accomplished since she passed away four years ago.

“After seeing our mother and twelve of our members lose their lives to cancer, we understand why a cure is desperately needed to stop this horrible disease from taking another life,” Rebecca said.

The San Fernando Valley Guild’s biggest fundraiser “Winter Wonderland Holiday Luncheon” is December 5th at the Universal Sheraton Hotel. For reservations please contact Alexandra Nilsson at (818) 389-6111 or via email.