The Washington chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is having a kickoff party at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Ballard on Thursday, April 11, for its annual Leukemia Cup Regatta, which brings together local sailors to raise money for blood-cancer research and patient services.
This is the 19th year for the Leukemia Cup Regatta in Seattle, which has raised more than $1.3 million in the last 10 years to fund leukemia and lymphoma research. Seventy-five boats of all shapes and sizes will sail from the Elliott Bay Marina, and 300 to 400 people are expected to participate in the June 8 event. There will also be two-dozen honorary participants at the event who have battled leukemia or lymphoma.
The Leukemia Cup Regatta started in Annapolis Md., when a group of friends at a yacht club lost their friend to lymphoma. Since its inception, the Leukemia Cup series has raised more than $42 million nationally. There are 40 to 45 events held each year across the United States where people can donate money in auctions to help support local families, patients and research. Prizes for the top individual fund-raisers include round-trip airline tickets, two-night stays at any Marriott Hotel and $200 gift certificates to restaurants like Palisade and Maggie’s Bluff.
A majority of the funding comes from the participants, but friends and family can also donate. Leukemia Cup Washington campaign manager Brianna Rockenstire said the organization hopes to raise $165,000 at this year’s event. She said 75 percent of the funding provides funding for blood-cancer research and financial aid for patients and to four major researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington Medical Center.
Queen Anne resident Lisa Verner said it’s time for her to give back to the community that has helped her win her life back. She is an honorary skipper at this year’s Regatta. Verner was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma on her birthday in 2002, when doctors found a tumor on the lymph node behind her stomach.
After a series of chemotherapy sessions, a CAT scan in December 2002 found that she was clear of the cancer. But, as is often seen in patients with cancer, the lymphoma found its way back into her system.
After a cross-country skiing accident in 2006 left her knee splintered, a routine MRI found a lymphoma in her knee. Verner said she was amazed, as she felt no symptoms and probably wouldn’t have for at least another two years. The cancer had mutated, and this form of lymphoma was more aggressive. The odds of success, which is defined as living more than five years after treatment, were much smaller.
She began chemotherapy and radiation therapy to combat the cancer in September of that year. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance suggested that she try using a stem-cell transplant, which involves harvesting a person’s stem cells and then freezing them, before being put back into the patient’s body.
In preparation for the transplant, Verner joined a clinical trial that used radioactive iodine isotopes to essentially reduce as much of the cancer as possible. Part of the treatment required that she put in an isolation room at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she stayed for nine of the total 30 days during the trial before her radioactivity decreased enough.
In February 2007, Verner underwent the stem-cell transplant, and since then, annual tests have come back negative, she said. It took a couple of years to get her strength back, but she now feels about “95 percent there” and is in remission.
Verner found strength through the First Connection Program, which provides support to people diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and multiple myeloma.
Lymphoma and leukemia are types of cancer that can affect the bone marrow, the blood cells, the lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website, more than $1 million people in the United States are currently living with, or in remission from, leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Every four minutes, someone will be diagnosed with blood cancer; every 10 minutes, someone dies, the website says — reason enough, Rockenstire said, to keep funding research for a cure.
“In the 1960s, we were able to spot childhood leukemia 3 percent of the time; now, we are able to spot it 90 percent of the time — that’s a big step,” Rockenstire said.
In Washington state last year, it was estimated that there were 1,050 new cases of leukemia, 1600 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 430 new cases of myeloma and 200 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma. It was estimated in the same year that 510 people died from leukemia, 390 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 210 from myeloma and fewer than 50 died from Hodgkin lymphoma.
Verner said it is crucial that blood-cancer research continues to be funded because additional research from clinical trials like the one she participated in has helped to advance the knowledge about diseases like lymphoma.
“Without that kind of research funding, the medical community isn’t going to be able to find cures,” she said.
For more information about the Regatta, visit www.leukemiacup.org/wa.
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