Twenty contestants compete to raise $1 million to fight blood cancer.
By Jane Hess Collins
Andrew Luckabaugh had just turned seven years old in 2006 when he was diagnosed with Lymphocyte Predominant Hodgkin’s Disease. Skyler Hundley was a kindergartener in 2007 when her family discovered she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood blood cancer. And on April 8, 20 men and women, inspired by Andrew and Skyler, began their 10-week race to raise $1 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has an ambitious mission – to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. And it looks like they’re closing in, with the survival rate for ALL jumping from an abysmal 4% in 1960 to 90% today, according to National Capital Area (NCA) chapter executive director Donna McKelvey.
The contest rules are simple. Each dollar counts as one vote, and the man and woman who brings in the most votes/dollars will be declared the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man and Woman of the Year during the Grand Finale Gala at the Washington, DC Ritz Carlton on June 12.
The NCA LLS candidates are nominated by past candidates, local LLS supporters and the chapter staff and Board of Trustees. Most of the candidates have a personal tie to LLS, and all of them are self-motivated, successful business or community leaders. Each of them is also competing with fundraisers from 40 other cities across the country for the national title, and they are the ones to beat. Since 2000, the NCA chapter has had eight national winners and been the number one chapter in the nation since 2002.
This year’s candidates are Alisha Poland, Infinity Technology; Allyson Spring, EMC Federal Systems; Aura Novak, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; Brian Leigh, Lockheed Martin; Jared Salvetti, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; Jason Clauson, Accenture; Jordan Rosenblatt, Hard Rock Café; Kaitlin Sighinolifi, United States Senate; Katie Rost, Click Model Management; Kelly Greene, BGR Group, LLC; Lisa Pagano, Washington Nationals Baseball Club; Mark Cohen, Cohen & Burnett, P.C.; Mary McLaughlin, Christopher Newport University; Mathew Hebert, E Lund Events; Nicole Siobal, Weber Shandwick; Ria Freydberg, Restaurant 3; Ricardo Reinoso, International Monetary Fund; Sean Geiger, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; Tami E Johnson, The Marketing Showcase; and Tina Jeon, Yale University.
Coping with Cancer
Perhaps no one wants a cure for blood cancer more than the parents of a child who has been diagnosed with it. Skyler’s and Andrew’s parents offered advice and encouragement to parents and families who have a child fighting the disease.
Ask for Help.
Kim Luckabaugh, Andrew’s mother, says her family talks openly about Andrew’s illness to raise awareness for other families. “Do not be afraid to ask for help. You cannot go through a cancer treatment alone,” Kim advised. She, her husband Dan, along with Andrew and his sisters Juliana and Elisa, relied on family and friends for emotional and practical help. Kim had special praise for the Truro Preschool and Kindergarten in Fairfax, VA whose members collaborated to provide babysitting and meals, as well as love and care.
Make It a Family Affair. When a brother or sister has cancer, the entire family feels it. Both Skyler’s and Andrew’s parents observed behavioral changes in their other children during the cancer treatments. On the positive side, you can involve your entire family in special events. The Hundley family’s participates in the LLS’ “Light the Night Walk” to raise awareness and funds for research, and the Luckabaugh family is involved with the Inova Fairfax Hospital’s Life With Cancer program.
The sick children can inspire the rest of the family. John described Skyler’s attitude throughout her cancer treatment as “amazing” and added, “The way they confront it and stay happy and stay cheerful… I think that not only helps them but their parents and their family members get through it.”
Prepare for a “New Normal.” When the treatments are finished, the family must adjust to a life outside of the “safety net” of the oncology world. Although Andrew completed his chemotherapy three years ago, Kim admitted that she still runs every event through a “cancer lens.” Every time Andrew picks up a minor illness or behavioral change, no matter how minor, she wonders if it’s a result of his cancer or his treatment. You can’t live in fear, she said, although the fears never leave.
Let the Fundraising Begin!
Both Skyler and Andrew are doing wonderfully, and they were introduced to the Man and Woman of the Year candidates during the April 8 kickoff event. Skyler completed her cancer treatment last June and now loves to swim, play soccer and practice gymnastics. She and her twin sister Jordan are second graders at Greenbriar West Elementary School in Fairfax. Andrew, who’s now in fourth grade at Providence Elementary School in Fairfax, has been cancer-free for three years. He has spoken to students at 15 area elementary and high schools about his cancer journey and to raise money for cancer research through “Pennies for Patients.” But, truth be told, he’d rather be home playing with his Lego Indiana Jones Wii game.
The race is on for these 20 candidates, motivated by Skyler and Andrew’s courageous stories as well as their own. To learn more about each candidate, and their passion for eradicating blood cancers, just click here.
Meanwhile, the families of children with cancer remain hopeful. As John said, “You get through it. One day at a time. And it gets better.”
Truly this is a race where there are no losers.