Alexandria resident, Tamara Christian, has watched many people in her life, family and friends included, fight, and some die, from different blood cancers.
"It's gotten to the point where I am afraid to answer the phone," said Christian.
Because of those she has known, a cousin and an uncle specifically, who lost in their fights against the cancer and those who have survived, Christian became involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
As a first year volunteer she already made her mark.
Earlier this month, at the annual D.C.-region "Man and Woman of the Year" gala, Christian, 37, was announced as the 2004 "Woman of the Year," for raising $82,000.
Men and Women from across the country compete each year in the eight week campaign to raise money for blood cancer, said Tammy Moloy, deputy executive director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"This campaign has grown by leaps and bounds," said Moloy, who has worked for five years for the Society's Alexandria office, and a volunteer for 12 years. "Tamara Christian, she raised $82,000 in two months, that alone is enough said."
But, at first, the president of National Trade Publications, Inc., a small Alexandria based company that puts together trade shows in the D.C. -area, wasn't sure she was up to the challenge.
But then the phone rang.
"I found out that my friend, who is 35 and who is happily married and has a five-month old baby ... had just been diagnosed with fourth-stage Hodgkin's Lymphoma," she said. "So that was it."
That was in December of last year, by March of this year, the day the campaign kicked off, Christian found out the disease was in full remission.
"Talk about signs," she said.
Through her hospitality industry connections, friends, family and employees at her 50-person company, Christian was able to reach out to bigger businesses for donations.
"It was an awesome response rate," she said of the 35 or so companies she sent letters to. "I think it was like a 90 percent response rate."
She even sent a light-heated email to men she had dated, even if only once, saying, "wouldn't you love to see my face on a bus and be able to say, 'hey I dated her!'."
Christian explained, as "Woman of the Year" she and the "Man of the Year" will have their faces on the back of city buses.
"I joked with my friends that the only reason they wanted me to win was because they wanted to see exhaust fumes going up my face," she said.
Up-beat and positive about the fundraising now, during campaigning she said it was difficult.
"It's so hard, when you're making phone calls to people to ask for money, to hear how blood cancer has touched their lives," she said. "It's very emotional."
Christian said the Society also helped her campaign.
"This chapter, they're there for you," she said of the D.C. region's Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "If you need more supplies, forms, raffle tickets, people's help, they are there to give it immediately."
"My favorite response that people gave when I called asking for money was, 'I would never be able to do what you're doing, so I'll give you money for that'," she said.
Her employees offered support by creating a team to ensure she won.
"Competing for a fund-raiser doesn't make sense to me," she said of her team's competitiveness to win. "Every drop of the money is going to the good, but they set this desire to win."
Stan Gutkowski, managing partner of US government practice for Accenture, agreed it's not a competition.
"The people that volunteer are candidates that are there to raise money," he said. "They aren't competing, they're people that are survivors and fighters against the disease."
Gutkowski, a Society board member, said Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company based in Reston, joined the "Man and Woman of the Year" campaign four years ago.
Christian said her team, although competitive, was part of the reason she won.
"All I am is the figure head," she said. "I am so lucky to be surrounded by creative, intelligent and energetic people."
Although she was happy she campaigned for "Woman of the Year," Christian said she'd taking a break from campaigning.
"... It's very fulfilling, but I won't be campaigning again anytime soon. I'll let people feel safe, I don't want people to see me and run the other way."