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.
For the second year in a row, high school students across the country are redefining what it means to be philanthropic in today’s youth culture. Through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) newest innovation in fundraising, Students of the Year, more than 600 motivated high school students raised significant funds for LLS’s cutting-edge cancer research and patient services.
Candidates for Students of the Year sign up for a fierce seven-week fundraising competition, for which they appeal to family and friends to raise critical funds, which LLS deploys to advance breakthrough treatments and to support the more than 1.3 million blood cancer patients in the U.S. The candidates/teams who raise the most money at the end of the competition earn the title Student(s) of the Year. Top local fundraisers become eligible to win the national title. The students raise money in honor of a local patient hero who is currently battling or is in remission from a blood cancer.
2018 Students of the Year
Cousins Samir Shah, 16, of The Calverton School in Huntingtown, MD, and Saar Shah, 15, of Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, MD, raised the most funds across the entire US and earned the winning title, “National Students of the Year,” with a record-breaking raise for cancer cures. These fundraising superstars orchestrated a dynamic campaign that included an innovative kite festival, Fly4aCure, in their close-knit Southern Maryland community. “Flying a kite is a symbol of having high aspirations and elevated vision,” said Saar Shah. “We believe in our hopes and aspirations to find a cure for all blood cancers.”
The Shah family has been struck with blood cancers twice in the past few years. Their cousin, Ami, battled a deadly blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and she is now seven years cancer free. More recently, Samir’s dad, Amish, was diagnosed with primary mediastinal b-cell lymphoma. He underwent chemotherapy and celebrates his incredible recovery. “We know firsthand how important cutting-edge research and treatments are in the fight against cancer,” said Samir Shah. “We’re honored to be named this year’s Students of the Year, and we’re grateful to have had this opportunity to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization that helped our family in our time of need.”
“LLS is at the forefront of the fight to cure cancer and through our fundraising campaigns like Students of the Year, we are helping millions impacted by cancer,” said Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS president and CEO. This program is proof that the youngest generation has the power to help us create a world without cancer.”