Teaming Up to Defeat Blood Cancers

May 15, 2015 Updated: May 16, 2015

“It’s not about winning, it’s about what can be done through the collective efforts of a team,” Jennifer Taggart told me when we met in Hauppauge Long Island recently.

Were Jennifer the coach of any of Hauppauge High School’s very competitive athletic teams—say the wrestling, soccer, football, baseball, or basketball squads—those pulpy words might have gotten her fired.

But she isn’t a coach of any sports team and wasn’t talking about any upcoming athletic event. Rather, she works as an official for Long Island Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), and the competition she was referring to is the society’s annual Long Island Man and Woman of the Year—a major fundraising event that began on March 19 and will end on May 28 of this year.

“The campaign is run as a form of team competition,” explained Jennifer, who has been involved with LLS since she first started in 1995 as a volunteer. “Candidates are nominated by social and professional peers to run in the campaign, and like any campaign, each builds a team to support the candidate in their efforts. Each dollar the team collects counts as a vote with the man and woman whose team raises the most ‘votes’ earning the title of Man and Woman of the Year, respectively. But it has far less to do with the title and more about improving the every day quality of life of all blood cancer patients and their families, and hopefully in the not so far future, finding cures for these awful diseases.”

While the winners of the Man and Woman of the Year will not be decided until all the votes are counted in the final days of the campaign, LLS has already selected The Boy and the Girl of the Year, which, unlike the former, is a totally noncompetitive event. “The boy and girl of the year are local pediatric blood cancer patients and survivors who share their stories with candidates, many of whom have their own personal connection to our mission, to inspire them [the candidates] and motivate them,” Jennifer explained.

This year’s Boy of the Year is 8-year-old acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patient Douglas Grimmett, and the Girl of the Year is ALL survivor Mary DeLorenzo. Jennifer, whose job with LLS includes coordinating all the myriad aspects of the campaign, told me she has gotten to know both of these children and their families especially well.

Never, Ever Give Up

She then described how Douglas himself has already influenced the event by uttering just four simple words. “Douglas always tells the children in the hospital to ‘Never, ever give up,'” Jennifer related. “So when a close family friend of the Grimmetts, a very special woman named Maria Celan, decided to run for Woman of the Year, she along with the five other women on her team chose as the team name, ‘Never, Ever Give Up.'”

Jennifer told me that Douglas, Mary, and Maria have thousands of wonderful counterparts in cities, villages, and towns across America engaged in the same campaign to win the war against blood cancer.

“Right as we speak,” she informed me, “there are thousands of dedicated men and women and girls and boys participating in more than 75 similar Man and Woman events taking place across the country run through LLS.”

The Long Island Chapter of LLS, like most chapters nationwide, conducts numerous fundraising events.

Jennifer also noted that the Long Island Chapter of LLS, like most chapters nationwide, conducts numerous other fundraising events. “We run dozens of different events each year. As one example, Our Teams in Training Program [TNT] runs a host of fundraising marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons. As another example, in October we host two annual Light the Night walks, which serve to foster public awareness and to honor cancer patients, survivors, and those we have lost to the disease.”

The money that all the LLS chapters across the nation receive during every one of these fundraising events is primarily used to support the more than 350 research projects currently being conducted in hospitals and academic institutions located primarily in America, Canada, Israel, and western Europe, and also, to supply social services, and, in some cases, financial assistance to blood cancer patients and their families.

The mother of an 11-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, 42, recalled what first motivated her to become associated with LLS. “My best friend lost her mother to leukemia, and I lost my father to colon cancer. I wanted to be involved in something where I truly felt I could truly make a difference.”

Robert Golomb is a nationally published columnist. Mail him at and follow him on Twitter@RobertGolomb.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.