“Curing blood cancer needs every one of us,” says Coker Powell, chief development officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
“While Covid-19 stopped the world in its tracks in 2020, there was no pause button for cancer. LLS kept moving forward — funding lifesaving blood cancer research, providing free education and support and serving as a voice for patients.” LLS credits the fundraising efforts of dedicated volunteers. “Our mission wouldn’t be possible without campaigns like Man & Woman of the Year. Participants play a pivotal role in fueling our vision.” Each spring, the nationwide initiative rallies community leaders across different backgrounds, identities and abilities who compete by fundraising in their local LLS regions. Volunteers who raise the most funds are awarded Man & Woman of the Year titles on the local and national level.
Meet former Man and Woman of the Year candidates who fundraised in their local LLS regions to fuel groundbreaking blood cancer research →
Dara Spearman, MD
Director of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, Parkview Health Fort Wayne, Indiana / 2019 Woman of the Year, Northeast Indiana
In med school, we did a bone marrow drive because many minority patients needing transplants don’t have enough donors. I also had a relative who had multiple myeloma and was a donor for an eight-year-old who had myelodysplastic syndrome. Through the campaign I learned that LLS-funded research in blood cancers helped pave the way for treatment innovations in other cancers like melanoma.
Throughout my career — as a woman and especially as a woman of color — I’ve often been one of the only in the room. The University of Michigan was great at supporting minority students, but I know not every school is like that and not everyone has that space. Medical school is stressful enough, and feeling like you’re representing your entire race — if I don’t do well, will they accept another Black student after me? — that’s something many of us felt and still feel.
I think that dialogue about implicit bias and disparities in healthcare needs to start so early in medicine — like your first day. It’s important because people who have blood cancers are diverse, so the cures for blood cancers will come from all types of people. If we don’t allow representation, we’ll miss out on great opportunities.
I’m always willing to be a mentor, and receiving mentorship is very important. Your mentor doesn’t have to look like you: Mentorship from a Black woman is great in certain instances to help you navigate situations, but sometimes it’s also great to have a white male mentor because they can help you in ways that I might not be able to. Open yourself up to mentorship in whatever form you’re able to get it.
Full-Time Mom Charlotte, North Carolina / 2020 National Woman of the Year Runner-Up
In 2017, my son Jennings, then two and a half, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of childhood leukemia. I also happened to be 36 weeks pregnant at the time with twins. He was diagnosed, they were born two weeks later, he went through four rounds of chemotherapy and then a grueling bone marrow transplant. He was in remission for two and a half years and enjoying health when I ran for Woman of the Year. In 2020, a few months after the campaign ended, he relapsed. So we’re back in the fight.
Jennings’ disease is acute myeloid leukemia, and it’s a uniquely aggressive type of cancer. It’s tougher to treat, and scientists don’t know as much about it as they’d like. We really need more collaborative efforts on this disease. That’s why I’m so passionate about supporting LLS: They’re the collaborative powerhouse bringing key players together for a cure.
Curing cancer is a collective effort. It’s not going to be one organization or one scientist. Look at the Covid-19 vaccine: Everybody cared because it touched everyone. We were able to get something done in a quick, safe and effective fashion because everyone had skin in the game —showing us what’s accomplished when decision makers and money come together. I want that for pediatric cancer because kids should be running, playing and getting dirty instead of pushing IV poles through hallways. The way the system [works] currently is that kids are last in line for new drugs and for cures.
The parallels [during the pandemic] have been outstanding. Basically our world experienced what a cancer family experiences every single day: restrictive living, isolation and uncertainty. For our family, 2020 was a beautiful year of health, restoration and giving back. We were just thankful to have a child who could run, breathe and play. I’m so thankful we didn’t let it get our family’s spirits down because you don’t know what’s coming around the bend. We really have to live each day in gratitude.
Vice President, L&R Structural Corporation Miami, Florida / 2019 Man of the Year Candidate
I’m the son of two Cuban exiles who came to the U.S. as children, raised a family and built a home full of love, all while starting a business from scratch. I represent the second generation of our family-owned, turnkey concrete construction company, which recently celebrated its 32-year anniversary. I’ve always felt grateful for my upbringing and the values instilled in me by my parents and feel a personal responsibility to give back and help my community.
Our company strives to help our community in various ways, including organizing food and toy drives and making donations to local organizations. L&R was a corporate sponsor of the campaign for several years before a family friend asked me to participate more directly in 2019. Although I had no prior fundraising experience at that level, I had faith that my network of family, friends and professional contacts in South Florida’s vibrant and charitable construction industry would support my campaign.
When it comes to fighting cancer, we’re all in this together. Cancer doesn’t care what car you drive, what God you pray to or to which flag you pledge allegiance. It’s unforgiving and doesn’t discriminate. At a time when fundraising is even more difficult due to the pandemic, we need to rise to the occasion and help organizations like LLS.
Cancer has shown us that it can and will present itself at any time in your life. When you participate in this process, you realize that nearly everyone has friends or family members who battled cancer and who therefore understand that we must do what we can to help find a cure and improved treatments for this disease. We can’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today, and we can’t take anything for granted.