The Man & Woman of the Year? What might that be? To explain that, we'll have to go back about twelve weeks.
First, let's talk about Abby. This is Abby.
Courageous. Spitfire. Delightful. Confident. None of these words come close to describing her near-blinding personality, optimism, and charm.
You see, at twelve years old, she was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. According to her father Trevor, before she could start chemotherapy, she had a nine-pound tumor removed that left an eleven-inch scar. She went through five rounds of inpatient chemotherapy with the last two rounds being 124 hours of continuous chemo. Thankfully, Trevor and Abby are happy to say that she has been in remission since November of 2013. This is what victory looks like. This is our 2015 Girl of the Year.
Next, we've got Paul, the 2015 Boy of the Year. He's a little camera shy, and I'm so fortunate to have Abby's assistance in making him smile.
Paul was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two years ago when he was just four years old. While he's still undergoing treatment, he's determined to beat this with his head held high. Although shy at first, when he gets his bearings at one of these LLS dinner events, he's all around the room. Mister social butterfly.
Paul and Abby are the Boy and Girl of the Year. They're the reason these people assembled their teams to raise a ridiculous amount of money. How much money, you ask? Over $360,000. IN TEN WEEKS.
Pictured from left to right, we've got the candidates: Aaron Hilf, Andrew Gilbert, Jose Luis Juarez, John DuBois, Tim Price, Freddy Mistry, Abby and Paul (front), Brett Cooper, Kathy Salazar, Jessica Woods, Dawn Davide, Mink Price, Karyth Becenti, Vaadra Martinez, and Annette Baca.
So who are the Man and Woman of the Year? According to the official website, which articulates it so much better than I could:
"Each year, in communities across the country, passionate candidates engage in an exciting competition to earn The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) "Man & Woman of the Year" titles by raising funds for LLS blood cancer research.
The candidates compete in honor of children who are local blood cancer survivors, the Boy & Girl of the Year.
Every dollar counts as one vote and the titles are awarded to the man and woman with the most votes at the end of ten weeks. The top local fundraisers in the country win the national titles. To date, these dedicated leaders have helped LLS invest more than $1 billion in research to advance breakthrough therapies that are saving lives today and helping us all achieve the LLS goal of a world without blood cancers.
The funds raised through Man & Woman of the Year are used in many ways:
• The continuing research and development of breakthrough therapies.• Free blood cancer information, education and support.• To support patients in their communities through our 61 chapters across the U.S. and Canada.• To drive policies that accelerate the development and approval of new treatments.• To advocate for blood cancer survivors and their families, helping patients navigate their cancer treatments and ensuring that they have access to quality, affordable and coordinated care."
In a nutshell, this is a HUGE deal. So who exactly were the winners of this year's prestigious title? Let's start with the 2015 Woman of the Year, miss Jessica Woods.
Needless to say, she was speechless.
And the 2015 Man of the Year, Freddy Mistry.
Between Freddy and Jessica's teams, and with the help of the rest of this year's candidates, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society broke the record for raising the most money ever for the state of New Mexico. According to the Man & Woman of the Year Facebook page: "Freddy was just shy of breaking the Man of the Year record, Jessica broke the record for Woman of the Year, we received national recognition for the highest number of fundraising Team Members AND we broke the NM record for the highest number of active Nominating Committee members!"
For the sake of cancer research, these amazing people came together to raise money to fund a cause that makes sure there would be no more stories like Abby and Paul's. After this year's campaign, we're that much closer to finding a cure. For me personally, this whole campaign struck a chord with me, having lost an aunt who was very dear to me just two years ago. The culprit: cancer, of course. Drawn by my own personal desire to help a little more than just photographing the LLS banquets, I donated my services to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to help raise money.
One of the campaigns I helped with yielded these photos:
As part of Aaron Hilf's campaign, someone on his team had the bright idea (not me, I swear) to offer professional headshots to people. $20.00 for three high resolution images, and all proceeds go to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. So you give money to cancer research in return for letting me take a picture of you looking good? It's a win-win.
All that being said, I appreciate all of the candidates, and especially this woman:
This is Lori Medik, the campaign manager for Man & Woman of the year (and the 2010 Woman of the Year). The first time I showed up at Hotel Andaluz to chat with her prior to my first photo session with the teams, I was on the phone trying to find her. She said "look for the blond running around crazy," and she wasn't far from the truth. The amount of work that she has visibly put into this campaign is staggering, and she has truly worked behind the scenes to ensure this campaign ran along flawlessly. Lori, you have my respect and admiration for spearheading the organization for the campaign here in New Mexico. You're amazing.
And to the rest of the candidates this year: you also have my heartfelt admiration and respect. Your amazing efforts are truly making a difference in the world of cancer research and treatment, and the amount of fundraisers and get togethers clogging my Facebook newsfeed really warms my heart. It was like I couldn't go one day without seeing SOMETHING on social media regarding the progression of this campaign. You all have great cause to celebrate.
By the way, I've been to a lot of benefit dinners for various reasons, but I can tell you that I haven't seen people get down like this. Maybe it's because of their cause, but it truly feels like a celebration, not just a party.
To everyone else working behind the scenes at Hotel Albuquerque, especially the A/V team: you're all rockstars. These people were there to help with absolutely anything I needed during the Grand Finale. Their behind-the-scenes efforts were phenomenal.
The woman in the glasses (photo below) is Courtney. (Please don't be mad that we stole a photo of you; we needed it to sing your praises!) Courtney, who worked at Hotel Albuquerque, was also running (literally) behind the scenes. It was because of her that we had absolutely everything that we needed. If someone forgot to bring us water, she waited there until it happened. Courtney, you deserve a raise. Of ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.
And finally, thank you to Wayne and Julene, who were part of my team that evening to help me photograph this event. Thank you so much for donating your time to this cause. LLS has so many great photos because of you.
Even though there were only two campaign winners, everyone wins when cancer loses.