Since 1949, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has raised more than $1.5 billion to establish effective treatments and find a cure for blood cancers through research.
The LLS has helped advance more than 70% of the blood cancer treatment options approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2017, according to the organization. Those treatments have been a lifeline to families facing the daunting diagnosis of blood cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other rare types of cancers.
Now, eight individuals and three teams of students from Idaho are doing their part to ensure the life-saving research continues through the LLS Visionaries of the Year initiative.
Formerly known as the Man and Woman of the Year Awards, the Visionaries of the Year Award creates a friendly competition among participants to raise the most money they can, in a 10-week campaign to honor local cancer survivors through volunteerism and fundraising.
Organizers hope to raise $100,000 from this year’s competition, which concludes on May 13, when the winners will be announced during an online grand finale celebration.
“This is where the term visionaries comes into mind,” said Adan David Callsen, the campaign development manager for Idaho’s chapter of the LLS. “We’re often doing the work now that may not lead to a cure or a clinical trial or something that’s approved by the FDA for five, six, seven, maybe 10 years out, but we have to have those visionaries doing the research right now to find those cures and to really dive deep into blood cancer.”
LLS Visionaries of the Year funds also support families, policy changes
But funding research isn’t the only way money raised from the competition can help survivors.
Participants can also select to support two other important mission pillars of the LLS through their fundraising: providing education and support to cancer survivors and their families – including assistance with identifying and enrolling in clinical trials – and mobilizing advocates and volunteers to drive policy changes that accelerate the development of new cancer treatments and break down barriers to care, Callsen said.
Tom Wheeler, a Realtor and co-founder of the HomeFound Group affiliated with Keller Williams Realty in Boise, didn’t hesitate to join the competition one day before it launched because he believes in the mission of the LLS and giving back to his community.
He chose to direct his fundraising toward the patient advocacy pillar.
“In Idaho, there’s a lack of (resources),” he said. “There’s transportation needs; there’s rural areas. So, to me, it was really the human element of the cancer diagnosis experience that stuck out to me.”
Wheeler, who helped establish Idaho’s first chapter of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, said it was also important for him to represent the LGBTQ+ community and show its willingness to step up and contribute to causes that affect Idaho.
“The term ‘visionary’ really feels like it resonates with being an LGBTQ business owner and community member,” he said. “I’m rallying my supporters, my clients, my friends, my community, the businesses I frequent … all those folks that support me and the work that I do for a good cause.”
The experience has allowed him to interview and connect with cancer survivors in the Treasure Valley as he’s promoted his fundraising goal through sponsorships, businesses matching donations, a silent auction and even dinner parties. As he aims to become the first LGBTQ+ Visionary of the Year Award winner in Idaho, the competition has allowed him to have conversations with people he knows about their own cancer diagnoses.
“I’ve met so many folks who have had cancer experiences themselves that I’m acquainted with and had no idea (they were survivors),” Wheeler said. “So it’s been a really cool opportunity to have a deeper level of vulnerable conversation with folks who’ve been affected by it.”
Bringing people together from all walks of life is one of the core missions of the Visionaries fundraiser, Callsen said, because “cancer doesn’t care if you’re Black or white, what race you are, what gender you are, what political party you belong to.”
“There are so many things that are polarizing right now, but cancer doesn’t discriminate against anybody,” Callsen said. “Literally every type of person is affected by this. I feel like this is one of those unique opportunities, specifically here in Idaho, to really focus on bringing people together versus tearing us apart because … cancer is a common enemy.”
Idaho student groups give back to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Jada Nguyen and Addison Cardoza are no strangers to activism and volunteerism through One Stone-Boise, a student-led and -directed nonprofit founded in 2008.
The two 15-year-old Renaissance High School students dedicate each Thursday to Project Good, a program through One Stone that tackles about 15-20 projects per year to better the community.
The students work with a cancer support group and often volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho with the aim to understand how the disease affects our community. They regularly interview health care workers and oncologists to understand cancer and its impacts, which is how they met Callsen and became involved in the Visionaries project as Team Cancer Crushers.
“Out of the three pillars – advocacy, support and research – we chose research, because we’re really interested in the different treatments that LLS has gotten approved on a nationwide level,” Nguyen said. “They recently got a new treatment approved through the research that was funded by this fundraiser that we’re doing now, which is super cool. That’s helping people across America right now.”
There are so many things that are polarizing right now, but cancer doesn’t discriminate against anybody.
Both of Nguyen’s parents and Cardoza’s mother work in health care, and the stories and experiences of their parents’ patients have always stuck with them, Nguyen and Cardoza said.
“I believe that health care should be a universal right, and us doing this fundraiser itself is helping so many people,” Cardoza said. “Right now, as students, we can’t work in hospitals, but we can actually help those people who are in hospitals.”
They’ve held fundraisers at a local pizza shop and encouraged friends and family to learn about the stresses of cancer and donate to their cause.
“I really want to put that impact out to my community and to the whole entire nation and see what I can do to help those in need,” Cardoza said.