Eight Charlotte area women and eight Charlotte area men are competing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Woman and Man of the Year titles. The one who can raise the most money for blood cancer research earns the title.
For Amy Eberhardt, the competition is intensely personal. The 47-year-old wife, mother, barre instructor and chemical sales executive, is also a cancer survivor who credits a clinical research trial with a bone marrow transplant that saved her life.
Now, 16 years cancer free, she is scrambling to raise as much money as possible for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society so that others may benefit from the same cutting edge cancer research that saved her life.
“When you support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, you can see the results,” said Eberhardt, who lives in Indian Land near Ballantyne.
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“You can see the research that’s going on and what it is doing to help people. This organization is changing lives and changing the face of cancer research.”
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Allyson Hanson says though the organization’s mission is to find a cure for blood cancer, much of the research is used to treat other cancers as well.
“Since 2000, over 40 percent of the drugs approved by the FDA to treat cancers in general were first approved to treat blood cancers,” said Hanson.
Eberhardt was a beneficiary of that research. In 1996, at age 26, the plans she had for her life were suddenly put on hold when she was diagnosed with Stage IV follicular Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Cancer wasn’t in my plan. I was always so in tune with the way my life was going to go. I was going to get married, have kids – but cancer turned my life plan upside down,” Eberhardt said.
Six rounds of chemo and her subsequent remission, were followed by a reoccurrence just two years later.
Another four rounds of chemo brought another remission, but doctors warned her that she needed to consider other options since the cancer returned so quickly. She opted for a bone marrow transplant using her own “cleansed” bone marrow, a trial procedure at the time.
That treatment worked, and her outlook on life was permanently altered. The self-centered twenty-something began looking at the world with more empathetic eyes.
“Before cancer, I was focused on myself and my life. Afterward, my focus was on other people and what they were going through,” Eberhardt said.
After she was fully recovered, she moved from her native Pennsylvania to California where she met Aarik, her future husband, who she never would have met had she married earlier as she originally planned.
The chemo treatments robbed her of the chance to have a biological child, but seven years ago, she and Aarik adopted their son Aaron.
“I wouldn’t have him if I didn’t get sick,” said Eberhardt.
Competing for Woman of the Year is another way she’s giving back to those going through what she went through.
The 2017 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man and Woman of the Year contestants have set a lofty $1,000,000 goal, but are confident they are up for the challenge. No one knows how much money has been pledged, but the totals will be announced and the winners crowned at a gala June3.
Though she would like to take home the symbolic crown, Eberhardt says if someone out fundraises her, that’s OK because it means more money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“I would like to win, but our campaign motto is ‘everyone wins when cancer loses,’” Eberhardt said.
“At the end of the day, this research helps people live longer lives. I’m super excited that people will have that opportunity, just like I did. “
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.