Honoring those who help pass legislation to aid cancer research has become a mission for two local men working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Kevin Fay of McLean and Joseph Kelley of Vienna are co-chairmen of the Congressional Honors Committee with the society, lobbying senators and representatives to increase funding and aid to cancer patients and their families and each spring presenting two senators with special recognition for their work at the Leukemia Ball.
As president of Alcalde and Fay, Kevin Fay first became involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society a few years ago, when a friend lost a child to blood cancer.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that no one in my family has had the disease,” he said, “but I’ve become aware, through working with the society, of more friends and acquaintances whose lives have been touched by it.”
During the 12 years Fay has been involved with the society, he has seen “a tremendous track record of success in research with the disease. The survival rates, especially among children, have gone up." The progress reminds him of how important his work, along with that of the members of Congress he helps recognize, remains.
“I’d been working on a project to involve the political realm in this organization, to bring in members of Congress and some administration officials as well as those from the lobbying community, because they’re the ones who can pass legislation and who can help us with funding,” Fay said. He helped to start the Congressional Honors program to “reward members of Congress who continue to bring awareness of research and patient needs,” he said.
This year, Jerry Lewis of California and Jack Reed of Rhode Island were the recipients of the Congressional Honors award for their work in helping to keep the needs of leukemia and lymphoma patients in the minds of Congress, Fay said. A small ceremony took place last week, a week before the annual Leukemia Ball this past Saturday, so the low-key celebration could keep the focus on the patients, but they were also acknowledged at the larger celebration, which more than 2,700 people attended.
“ONE OF THE BEST things about the ball is that this process is a journey of hope but also a great caring, giving society, and we have a great party,” Fay said.
Joseph Kelley is a newcomer to the Congressional Honors program, having spent the past three years working with Fay, but his involvement with the Leukemia Society has a personal connection.
“I lost my wife to leukemia three years ago this May,” Kelley said. “I started the Virginia Sheldon Jerome Foundation in her honor after her passing.”
He was introduced to Fay through some mutual friends, who thought that his position as vice president of government and political affairs for Eli Lilly Corporation might make a useful connection for the society.
For the past three years, Kelley has worked on updating the society on new research and medicines, and decreasing the amount of time it takes for medicine to get from the lab to patients who need it.
“As someone who spent 11 months on a cancer ward with my wife I’ve heard a lot of stories from people,” he said. “When you’re with a loved one and they’re suffering, you’re looking for every miracle you can.”
His wife would spend time talking with other cancer patients, trying to cheer them up and keep them positive, “even though she was one of the sicker people on the floor,” he said. “My goal is to give back and help with research. I agreed to have my wife’s foundation be the principal sponsor of the Congressional Honors program and raise $500,000 over 10 years.”
The first outing was a golf tournament at the Stonewall Country Club in Gainesville that raised just under $160,000, he said. The following year almost $200,000 was raised, and this year has already seen over $200,000 in donations, Kelley said. “We’ve already reached our goal in less than half the time,” he said.
The money raised goes to the Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center, he said. “I cover most of the expenses for the golf tournament myself, so well over 99 percent of the money we raise goes directly to research at the hospital,” he said.
“The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Ball is the largest non-political one-day fund-raiser in the area,” said Edith Wooten, public relations committee chairwoman for the Leukemia Ball. “We raised $3.2 million last year and are on track to raise about $3.4 million this year. This is the nation’s fastest-growing help agency, and this chapter is the fastest-growing chapter in the country.”
IN ITS 18TH YEAR, the Leukemia And Lymphoma Society’s Ball had over 2,000 attendants and featured a concert by John Mellencamp.
Both men bring their talents and their background to help the society, she said.
“Mr. Kelley does patient advocacy … his profession matches so well with what he does with us,” she said. “They’re both so committed.”
“Kevin has been a chairman of the Congressional Honors Committee from the beginning and has helped shape the program,” said Donna McKelvey, executive director of the National Capital Area chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
As a result of the Congressional Honors program this year, over $370,000 has been raised for research from the federal arena, she said.
“We rely heavily on volunteer leadership, and they’ve far exceeded our expectations that we could have for them,” McKelvey said. “We hope they’ll be with us for a long time. Their efforts have been outstanding, and we’re eternally grateful for all their hard work.”