For 36 years, The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has been a committed supporter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), raising more than $86 million to drive forward our goal to end blood cancers.
Led by members of the UFCW, Labor Against Cancer is a movement to end the devastation of cancer through fundraising drives among members, retail campaigns, and walking with LLS's Light The Night.
Labor Against Cancer allows members like Dean Nelson, to do what they do best, empower their membership to band together for the good of others in the communities where they work and live. A longtime UFCW member, Dean knows firsthand the urgent need for lifesaving treatments. Here is his story.
I’m a proud member of UFCW and I've worked as a retail meat cutter for our local grocer CUB foods for 24 years. I’ve always supported our partnership with LLS because I saw their dedication to find cures for blood cancers and help patients and families in need. Throughout the years, I’ve attended several of our annual Light The Night Walks with my local UFCW team, but it all became personal for me in June 2014.
After experiencing unusual symptoms such as difficulty breathing, I was diagnosed with chronic myelocytic leukemia. It wasn’t an easy journey, but because of the advancement in therapies LLS helped fund, I was in the hospital for just three and a half days, and back to work in less than three weeks.
Next June, I will celebrate five years of being cancer-free and I will continue to give back through Labor Against Cancer and my UFCW Light The Night Walk team.
I can honestly say that I am alive today because of LLS and UFCW. The medication I take is a direct result of research funded by LLS with money raised by UFCW and many others in the fight against cancer. I’m proud to say I played a role in bringing forth the treatment that saved my life. Words of gratitude are hard to express.
Today I am a UFCW board member and I wear a UFCW butcher’s cleaver tattoo on my left arm. It’s a reminder of my survivor story and I carry it with me always.
For the third consecutive year, during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, nearly 250 West Marine stores across the country are teaming up with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Leukemia Cup Regatta, to raise awareness for the urgent need to fund research to advance cancer cures. From September 1-30, West Marine customers can donate to LLS by purchasing a paper sailboat they can add their name to and display in the store where the donation was made. 100% of the proceeds will go LLS to help support the fight against cancer.
West Marine is recognized as a leading boating supply store for cruisers, sailors, anglers and paddle sports enthusiasts nationwide. West Marine CEO, Doug Robinson, has also sailed in the Charleston, SC Leukemia Cup Regatta since 2015 and has a particularly close mission connection to LLS. In 2014, he was diagnosed with a deadly blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML). At the time of his diagnosis, he was told his disease had advanced to a stage where he needed to begin immediate treatment. His medical team worked closely with LLS to learn about treatment protocols and to identify a bone marrow donor for a much-needed transplant.
“It became apparent that my long-term survival was completely dependent upon a successful bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, LLS was able to identify a bone marrow donor, which ultimately saved my life,” said Doug. “Four years later, I am cancer free. If it weren’t for LLS, I would not be alive today.”
West Marine has been a national supporter of Leukemia Cup Regatta since 1996, so when Doug joined the company earlier this year, he was already well aware of LLS’s critical work to find cures. “LLS has delivered lifesaving results year after year, with the data to support it. Last year alone, there were four FDA approvals for AML,” said Doug. “I can’t think of a better organization to support.”
The Leukemia Cup Regatta is a thrilling series of sailing events that combine the joy of boating with the important task of raising money to cure blood cancers. Since its inception, The Leukemia Cup Regatta has raised millions of dollars for lifesaving research and patient services, bringing help and hope to patients and their families. At yacht clubs throughout North America, skippers register their boats and recruit friends and colleagues to help crew and to raise funds. Crewmembers seek donations from friends, family, co-workers and employers to sponsor their boat.
The symptoms I habitually pushed off as stressors from my first semester of college, began to accumulate. Throughout the semester I felt less like my healthy self because of coughing, abnormal skin reactions, unexplainable fatigue and diminishing motivation.
There was a relief when my diagnosis came over winter break. I now knew there was a potential fix for the growing list of symptoms from cancer, and they were not simply figments of my imagination. After the official diagnosis of stage III Hodgkin lymphoma, it was decided I would withdraw from the University of Maryland for the upcoming spring semester with the hope of returning in the fall after treatment.
For the first time in my life, everything was put on hold. I had one job: to get better. Living back home to receive an aggressive treatment of A+AVD chemotherapy after the taste of freedom the university life offered was one of many challenges.
My doctor affirmed my struggle was similar to other 19-year-old females diagnosed with cancer. For my peers, this is a time of self-discovery, education, growth, and fun. However, I was stopped and forced to battle the hardest physical struggles, the possibility of death and the unknown of the future, including the 1 in 3 chance of my prescribed chemotherapy regiment leaving me infertile.
Giving Back: Donating My Hair
I discovered I could utilize the fundamental aspects of my personality to find the best me during treatment. My solution was to give. Cancer is a job that drains your energy and wreaks havoc on your physical body and mental space, but by tapping into my inner strength I was able to find the energy to help others.
Before my first chemotherapy treatment, I donated the majority of my hair. I chose a pixie cut, opting for a stylish hairdo I did not have to commit to for long.
I went back to the salon to bleach my hair. Then after my first treatment, I dyed my hair violet purple – the color of the Hodgkin lymphoma cancer ribbon. This was my favorite hair transition because it was meaningful and unique. When my hair started to fall out, I decided to dye it one last time – the color black. It turns out I was blonde for a reason. Black hair did not suit me. Somehow that helped prepare me for when I went back to the salon to shave off what was left of my hair.
I was able to make the transition of losing my hair more manageable by donating it and continuing to have fun before the inevitable. I’ve spoken with other cancer patients and survivors and it is my understanding that some people struggle with losing their hair more than others. I would say my emotions were somewhere in the middle. But now being weeks out from my last treatment, I am anxious for my hair to start growing back.
Finding a Greater Purpose
I became stir crazy in my house and decided to look for a job. I was hired as a line-worker at a fast-casual restaurant local to Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was receiving treatment. With a renewed focus to help the business thrive through customer service, I was able to have moments where I did not focus on cancer. Being inspired and distracted through conversations with coworkers and customers helped me find strength and motivation.
During my high school’s annual fundraiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), I was honored to make a video to share my story. Planning with staff and student leaders resulted in a meaningful and successful fundraiser. In three weeks, Fort Collins High School raised funds, held a hat and scarf donation for the local infusion center and made cards for local cancer patients. I was proud. The school was inspired. And the community was touched.
LLS is an important organization for my family. My aunt has been battling myeloma for ten years and LLS has provided her with education and support, while also funding groundbreaking research to find cures. During my treatment, I attended a regional LLS Blood Cancer Conference where I learned coping strategies and found a new friend my age who survived going through almost the same exact treatment as I did. Further, I know that funding groundbreaking research can lead to lives saved. In fact, because of LLS’s long-term investment in research, I was given brentuximab as a first line treatment.
Most importantly, LLS has provided me an outlet to share the many words in my mind, passion in my heart and ideas. By having my own blog and sharing my story with other patients through LLS Community and on this blog, I am able to connect with others and receive incredible support.
This is no way to sugarcoat what I and other patients go through when faced with a diagnosis of cancer. Every journey through cancer is unique, but by investing the little energy left I have found the energy to grow.
Elizabeth’s last day of chemotherapy was June 14, 2018. She is planning to go back to college this fall. To read more about her story, visit her blog at https://baldsocks.com.