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UNC junior Laura Rozo dies after battle with cancer

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Wendy Lu met Laura Rozo in the N.C. Fellows program their freshman year. They met their sophomore year. The article has been amended to reflect this change, and The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Laura Rozo, a UNC junior and Morehead-Cain Scholar, died Thursday afternoon after a long battle with cancer. She was 20.

Rozo first came to the United States from Colombia as a 13-year-old who spoke no English.

But by the time she was 18, she had mastered the language, excelled through high school and won a Morehead-Cain Scholarship, said Chuck Lovelace, executive director of the foundation.

“She was just fiercely determined,” he said. “The remarkable courage and determination that she demonstrated throughout her life and her sickness will continue to amaze and inspire all of us who knew her.”

Rozo was first diagnosed with stage IV rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in the summer of 2011, but her story became widely known this semester after she spoke at the TEDxUNC conference in February.

“For me, death is not a threat,” Rozo said in the speech, “but the condition that maximizes my life.”

And that sentiment is one that Rozo not only fulfilled herself but also encouraged others to do, said Zoe Wolszon, a junior who met Rozo as a freshman in 2010.

“She wanted to spread the idea that you don’t have to be diagnosed with cancer to claim your life,” Wolszon said.

“Cherish what you have, and make use of it.”

At a memorial Thursday night, friends talked of the life and legacy Rozo has left behind — but they said they were hesitant to use the past tense when speaking about her.

“I talk as if she’s still here,” said Wendy Lu, a junior who met Rozo in the N.C. Fellows program their sophomore year.

“Even though I guess technically she’s not, I think she’ll always be around — in our hearts and our minds.”

A salsa dance party will be held next week in the Pit in her honor, but no candles will be lit — two requests Rozo made before she died.

“It’s so fitting for her, and it’s exactly what she wanted,” Wolszon said. “She was very clear about that.”

Chenxi Yu, a junior who met Rozo their freshman year, said though Rozo’s disease hurt her physically, it led her to achieve an inner peace that helped her deal with her disease.

“She’s really something else,” Yu wrote in an email.

“I’m incredibly lucky to call her my friend, and I will live my life differently having known her.

“In fact, I already am.”

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