Students rise up in the fight against blood cancer

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Sanjna Sood

Students join hands to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “All the donations will go towards research and help the people who are subjected to blood cancer,” Kate Carlos said. “It builds this whole community of people who are striving to push towards a common goal of fighting cancer.”

Battling diseases, especially ones without known cures, is one of the greatest hardships people can face.

But those who must do not fight alone. 

Carlmont students support those going through blood cancer by raising funds through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Students of the Year (SOY) program. 

The LLS is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers. Since 1949, LLS has invested about $1.3 billion in blood cancer research. They are currently funding nearly 200 research grants worldwide, provided over $431 million in co-pay financial assistance, and advanced 57 blood cancer treatment options approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

“Our research also goes towards other organizations and companies,” said Michelle Purgason, who works for LLS. “We’re really working towards finding a cure for all cancers, and we are happy and welcome to work with everyone to get there.”

The nonprofit’s mission to cure blood cancer and improve patients’ quality of life has three main pillars: research, education and support, and policy and advocacy. The SOY program falls under several of those goals. 

SOY is an annual program run by LLS. It aims to help high school students to develop leadership and professional skills while raising funds for the nonprofit. The candidate or co-candidates who raise the most money during the campaign competition earns the title “Student(s) of the Year.” 

Given that other events similar to SOY must be virtual this year, there are fewer opportunities for students to develop professional skills. As the Campaign Development Manager of SOY, Purgason works closely with SOY teams and understands the value of the tools they learn through the process. 

“I hope the candidates really take this opportunity as a professional development opportunity, so that they can gain the skills and put this on their resume to help them build up their college applications or when they go into the workforce. And, of course, the ultimate goal is to raise funds towards our mission,” Purgason said. 

Sophomores Nathan Bish and Kate Carlos are leading their own team for the SOY campaign this year. The two have been close friends since middle school, and both have connections to cancer research and the pharmaceutical world. 

“What first made me want to do this is the opportunity to work hands-on,” Carlos said. “I also knew that Nathan and I worked really well together, and I saw that being super profitable if we could lead a team.”

Their team is preparing to start receiving donations when the kickoff date arrives in January by contacting companies, personal friends, and family. 

“Every single dime that we get will go to all three of LLS’s pillars,” Bish said. “I want to say how important it is for everyone to get involved. It would be so helpful if anyone could build a contact list of everyone they know; it doesn’t matter if it’s your doctor, your nurse, or your camp counselor from three years ago.”

Students who participated in the SOY campaign last year are coming back to lead and contribute as well. 

Anjali Mehta, a junior, participated in SOY last year as a team member. This year, she is partnering with her friend Keya Arora, a junior, in leading a team. 

While Mehta didn’t know too much about the organization when she first joined last year, she later realized that it’s a rewarding experience that helps a good cause. 

“It’s really fun, and it builds your leadership skills and communicating skills,” Mehta said. “You make a lot of friends since you spend time with people for the entire campaign, and it’s just really rewarding.”

At the end of the campaign, LLS holds a final event to recognize the efforts put in by all the high school students. They also introduce a child who has gotten a lot of help from LLS or has blood cancer. 

“You feel like you’ve just been raising money for so long, but then at the end, it becomes personal, and you see the individual impact it can make,” Mehta said. “It is really sweet to not just be like ‘Here’s a number’ or ‘Oh we raised this much money,’ but it’s more like ‘This is who you’ve been able to help.'”

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