Hadiyah-Nicole Green lost her adoptive parents to cancer, so she threw herself into the study of physics to cope with her loss.
She became one of only 66 black women to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the United States between 1973 and 2012.
Hadiyah was born St. Louis, Missouri. She was orphaned at a very young age and raised by her aunt Oralee Smith and her uncle General Lee Smith, according to an NBC article.
She was always a strong student, studying at Alabama A&M University. After changing her major three times, she eventually decided on a degree in physics. She was the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
It was at this moment of elation and euphoria, when everybody was celebrating her academic success, that her aunt announced that she had cervical/ovarian cancer.
But the prognosis was even more grim: she had already lived with the cancer for eight years but refused treatment. Her aunt rejected treatments because of the painful side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
“I didn’t understand it at first,” Hadiyah said.
Hadiyah took care of her for three months. Then Auntie died in 2005.
It was a huge blow.
Not too long afterward, her uncle was diagnosed with cancer as well. The difference was that her uncle received the treatment — and to confirm his wife’s concerns — the treatment was a horrible experience.
“He really had it bad. The treatment disfigured him,” Hadiyah said. “The man that raised me wasn’t the same. He just wasn’t the same person.”
He was given only 3-6 months to live. He died a year later.
She went on to pursue a Master’s and then a Ph.D in physics. At times, she struggled to keep up with the arduous academics and would call home in tears for support as her biological and church family prayed for her, as reported by Black Christian News.
While she was working toward her doctorate she began to read about laser technology and had the idea of using lasers to kill cancer cells directly.
She spent three years in a lab, where she developed laser technology that uses nanoparticles to destroy cancer cells. Healthy cells were not harmed, unlike chemo or radiation. She tested the technique successfully on mice; 10-minute treatment killed tumors during 10 days with no side effects.
Green became an assistant professor at Tuskegee University, then moved on in 2016 to become assistant professor at Morehouse School of Medicine.
Hadiyah founded the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation and fund-raised through social media to support the research to change the way cancer is treated and reduce human suffering. She was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the Veterans Affairs’ Office of Research & Development to begin clinical trials.
She believes that she will need over $20 million to advance the research and guide it through clinical trials. Her foundation lists verses on its website pleas for donations: For with God nothing shall be impossible. Luke 1:37 and If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
It uses as a logo a rendition of “He Can Heal Cancer” in which He is part of Heal but of a different color and Can is part of Cancer.
Worldwide, 8.8 million people die from cancer yearly, and Hadiyah wants to make the treatment affordable. Her approach to cancer treatment is being called “revolutionary” and “our best hope to beat cancer.”
Hadiyah dedicates much of her spare time speaking to and mentoring young black students.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “I repeat that because a village of people helped raise me and instill values in me, and encouraged me to get to this point. I did not get here by myself. Because of that clarity, I know my responsibility to encourage and mentor the next generation.”
Although it may take time for her to realize her dream of curing of cancer, she receives solace from supportive friends and family .
“I realize that I’m just a vessel, but I want to help humanity,” said Hadiyah. “It’s a huge honor and it’s humbling to be at the forefront.”
Ryan Cepeda studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.