Funding a solution
Celeste Williams was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on her fifth birthday.
She spent 846 days in chemotherapy and had several spinal taps, blood transfusions and surgeries before she was considered "cured."
"I got an infection related to bubonic plague and had so much bone damage from chemo that they thought I wouldn't be able to walk," said Williams, a Lakeridge High School sophomore. "While I am now considered cured of cancer, the effects are with me every day."
Henrik Hunt, also a LHS sophomore, found out on his 13th birthday that his mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Since then, she has spent 23 nights in the hospital and has endured 25 months of treatment, undergoing many therapies.
West Linn High School seniors Emily Fogg and Abby Manley were also touched by cancer when their friend was diagnosed with stage 4 hodgkins lymphoma.
These are just a few examples for how cancer has affected the lives of local high school students.
But these particular students are dedicated individuals who are raising funds for cancer research as part of a candidacy with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) — a health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services.
For the fifth year, both nationally and locally, LLS is running its Students of the Year program — a philanthropy program where high school students compete to raise funds for the fight against cancer.
For the local chapter, candidates from various high schools around Oregon and Southwest Washington are chosen from the LLS leadership committee, which is made up of 25 business, education and community leaders.
The candidates then form teams within their own social networks and work to raise money for seven weeks. This year's kickoff was Thursday, Jan. 11.
Last year there was about
$6 million raised nationally by high school students and just shy of $90,000 was raised from high school students from the local chapter.
"This kind of campaign is really targeting people who are outgoing and want to really make a difference on the cancer landscape so (we are) looking for people who are well-connected within their networks, creative, unafraid to ask, have a strong reason for wanting to do it — whether it's a personal connection or they just know they're in a position to be able to help and choose to do so," said Julie Davidson, senior campaign manager for LLS.
"The fundraising competition part of it is that every dollar they fundraise counts as a vote and the team at the end with the most votes wins (a scholarship)."
An estimated 1.3 million people in the United States are living with, or are in remission from, leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, and approximately every three minutes one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer, according to LLS statistics.
"Many of the cures we've helped fund have been used to treat other cancers," Davidson said. "A dollar invested with LLS has a much wider ripple effect than you would think at first glance."
Lakeridge junior Lily Barna was a candidate last year and is now part of the LLS leadership committee and a mentor for the two Lakeridge teams.
"A friend of one of our teammates got diagnosed with leukemia and he was a baseball player (so) our team name was Combat Cancer with a little baseball bat," Barna said. "You definitely learn a lot through the seven weeks about how to plan an event and what to do. Sometimes you have to troubleshoot but I met some amazing people who helped me fundraise and helped me figure out things to do. I just knew that I wasn't done with LLS (after that, so) I told them, 'You guys are kind of stuck with me.'"
This is not Fogg or Manley's first time either. Last year they were on a team and loved it so much they were selected as co-candidates this year for their team, Be the Change.
"I am hoping to raise as much money as possible. This fundraiser has never been about winning for me," Manley said. "I want to make an impact, especially for the children with these blood cancers. I want to gain a leadership role as well, but I mainly want to reach to many communities, raise awareness and raise money."
Fogg agrees and is also looking forward to gaining knowledge about blood cancers.
"Once you do this campaign you get hooked and want to do it again," Fogg said. "My team members and I are ready to come back strong and help raise money for this cause."
On the other hand, it is Williams and Hunt's first time being involved.
"There's a lot of side effects from the chemotherapy and I don't want other children to have to go through the same thing as I did so I want there to be better treatments because all the money goes toward cancer research," said Williams, adding that the goal for her team is to raise more than $15,000.
And the team already has hit the ground running with fundraisers planned out at restaurants and lectures.
Junior Caroline Pahl, co-candidate of the other Lakeridge team, X-out Cancer, is looking forward to fundraising money at her mom's yoga studio in Lake Oswego, Twist Yoga.
"I'm excited for the two yoga classes that my mom is teaching to raise money because they're always fun themes and people really enjoy them," said Pahl, adding that she was inspired to be a part of Students of the Year because her dad won Man of the Year in 2014 — similar to Students of the Year, except they have 10 weeks to fundraise, and receive "bragging rights" instead of scholarships, Davidson said.
This year there are 10 teams total — double the amount from last year. At the end of seven weeks there will be a grand finale celebration on March 4, and the candidate that raised the most money will win a $2,500 college scholarship. There is also a Citizenship Award, a $1,000 scholarship, which is what Barna received last year.
"Many people are in this for the scholarship money but I am in this because I want to make a change in the world and this is such a good start," Fogg said. "I hope that I can show underclassmen here at WLHS that this is something they should do as well and I want to leave a legacy with this high school and encourage the underclassmen to find a way to make a change as well."
For more information on each team and to donate, visit www.studentseries.org/content/oswim-chapter-students-of-the-year.