Raising $1 million in the midst of a pandemic may seem an overwhelming feat, but for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, it’s a necessary one.
After all, as the society puts it, cancer doesn’t stop during a global crisis.
September is Lymphoma Awareness Month and Blood Cancer Awareness Month and according to the society, nearly 1.3 million people in the U.S. live with or are in remission from a blood cancer.
As part of the non-profit’s signature community fundraising campaign Light the Night, which helps fund blood cancer research, LLS has already raised more than $85,000 of its $1 million goal.
“[One million dollars] was last year’s fundraising goal too and we hit $1.1 million, which was awesome,” said Scottsdale resident and Corporate Walk Chair for Light the Night, Liz Scott.
“Even given COVID and everything going on, the team at [LLS] is just not willing to give up on the [$1 million] goal.”
While the Light the Night event typically attracts thousands of attendees — all of whom carry white, gold, and red lanterns at the evening walk, resulting in a visually stunning spectacle — this year’s walk will instead be virtual on Nov. 14.
“One of the most special parts of it is they have what we call the survivor circle. So, prior to the walk actually starting, all the survivors are asked to gather together in the middle with their white lanterns, and then everybody else is surrounding them – I’m getting goosebumps just saying it – with their red and gold lanterns, and they’ll beam of white light shoots up into the sky,” Scott described.
“It’s just this beautiful moment of support.”
This year’s walk may look different for safety reasons, but, Scott said, “it’s still going to be very, very meaningful.”
According to Campaign Development Manager Edyth Haro, Light the Night’s virtual platform will be an “interactive and engaging experience.
“That way, LLS supporters and volunteers will enjoy the same iconic elements of Light the Night – illuminated lanterns, Circle of Survivors and the Remembrance Pavilion – in a different format but with the same passion to bring an end to blood cancers once and for all.”
“They’re wanting it to be, obviously, very safe,” Scott added. “We have people that are currently battling cancer. We want to make sure of an abundance of caution that they’re protected.”
Raising awareness and money for blood cancer research is important for the longtime volunteer.
Scott’s grandfather, Earl Norman Dorn, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995 and lost his battle the following year at 75.
Scott’s husband’s older brother, Richard Douglas Bell, also lost his life to leukemia in 1976 at the age of 13, following a several-year battle with the disease.
“It’s something that has, unfortunately, touched both sides of our family, and it’s really in memory of them that I do the work that I do and volunteer and fundraise,” Scott said.
From now through Nov. 14, individuals and corporate teams alike will continue to raise money for Light the Night.
The Executive Challenge, however, doesn’t start until Sept. 21.
Scott’s team hopes to raise $50,000.
“It is very competitive, which is great. That’s exactly what we want,” Scott said, adding that they hope to have at least 30 executives participate this year to meet a fundraising goal of $300,000.
All money raised will go directly to LLS to help fight blood cancers, including funding research to find cures.
One such accomplished researcher who has dedicated her career to fighting lymphoma is Dr. Lisa Rimsza, Scottsdale resident and Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic.
In July, Rimsza joined the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board for the second time.
The foundation is the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to funding innovative lymphoma research.
Lisa’s expertise in hemopathology and anatomic and clinical pathology will help the foundation to better understand lymphoma.
“I’m just really honored,” Rimsza said of her appointment to the board. “The first time I participated, I founded a great group of people that really dedicated themselves to lymphoma and supported really high research standards, great patient information and great patient advocacy.”
The advisory board comprises 45 world-renowned lymphoma experts who guide the foundation’s research portfolio, seeking out the most innovative and promising lymphoma research projects for support.
The board also evaluates the progress of on-going research projects and guides the strategic direction of the foundation’s research programs and scientific consortia.
“We make decisions about what where the lymphoma research field is going and what types of research questions should be asked,” Rimsza explained in part.
Rimsza’s research interests include clinical assay development in B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, HIV-related lymphomas, and immune evasion and oncogene dysregulation in lymphomas.
It’s been just two months since Rimsza joined the board, and she already has about 25 projects going, including working on aggressive B-cell lymphomas and T-cell lymphomas and creating diagnostic tests that can be used to identify subsets of patients that meet different types of chemotherapies.
“In my lab, I also have a clinical portion – it’s considered sort of an extension of the hospital labs – where I can apply these special tests to patients’ biopsies,” Rimsza said.
In 2016, Rimsza co-invented a genetic test to help guide diagnosis and treatment of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
“We are working with a company that’s going to commercialize that. All the data has been submitted to the FDA, which is supposed to be reviewing them,” she said.
When Rimsza was a member of the foundations’ advisory board from 2008 to 2013, she said it was exciting to talk to patients and answer their questions.
“I work as a pathologist. Usually, we call ourselves the ‘doctor’s doctor’ because we call the other doctors and we say, ‘This is a disease that your patient has.’ So, I’m used to professional conversation,” she said.
This time around, Rimsza said she’s excited to take part in foundation’s career mentorship program.
“It’s all part of mentoring the next generation of people,” she said.
“They mentor young faculty who want to go into doing clinical trials to improve therapy for patients. But they’ve also added in a category for people who want to do laboratory research in lymphoma. I have taught there in the past, so I’m excited to get involved with that and help take some sort of leadership role.”
The foundation’s signature fundraisers, like Light the Night, have helped the organization invest nearly $1.3 billion in cutting-edge research worldwide.
According to Executive Director Jim Brewer, fundraising this year is more important than ever.
“Blood cancer patients need us now more than ever,” Brewer said. “We will gather virtually to bring light to the darkness of cancer.”
“As we’ve done throughout our 71-year history, LLS will ‘virtually’ reinvent the peer-to-peer fundraising category through our unparalleled ingenuity, resourcefulness, innovation and relentless drive to deliver our mission.”