Delta Zeta Sorority held their third annual “Ali’s Way” dinner last week, benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) in honor of Ali Facella, a member who lost her battle to leukemia in November of 2006.
“She had a neat personality,” Delta Zeta Alumna Jacqueline McCawley said. “She was always enthusiastic and she was just one of those people that had a great sense of humor; one of those sisters that everyone loved.”
Five months after being diagnosed in June 2006, Facella lost her battle with leukemia, a blood cancer caused by an abnormal increase of blood cells (usually white blood cells).
Her passing “came as a shock,” McCawley said, “no one really expected it.”
Roughly 100 people attended this year’s dinner, including Delta Zeta alumnae who knew Facella during her treatment.
Guest Speaker Heidi Wolcott spoke on behalf of LLS, providing information about the organization’s commitment to blood cancer research and patient services. Wolcott is the Special Events Manager for LLS’s Team In Training (TNT), a program that offers sports training for people participating in marathons, bike rides, and mountain hikes.
Last year Delta Zeta raised $1,300 that went directly to LLS, which donates money to researchers in pursuit of a cure. Since LLS was founded in 1949, it has contributed over $680 million to blood cancer research. LLS also provides financial aid to those living with blood cancer.
The organization estimates that 900,000 people have been diagnosed with blood cancer.
For the past two years, the benefit dinner has placed more emphasis on their late sister, but Delta Zeta philanthropy chair Minoti Mehta wanted this year’s dinner to have the same somber atmosphere, but focus on how people could get more involved, she said.
Spokesman for the National Bone Marrow’s “Be the Match” Program Jerry Quintana also presented at the dinner, providing information on how to become part of the bone marrow registry, which helps those seeking a bone marrow donor.
One form of treatment that leukemia patients undergo is allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, a procedure that transplants stem cells from a genetically-compatible donor, which may not always be the patient’s relatives.
“A lot of people simply died because people were not willing to donate bone marrow,” Mehta said, “[Be the Match] can get people to directly help.”
Be the Match compiles a registry of 7 million people willing to donate bone marrow if a DNA match is made with a patient. Quintana said that leukemia patients first look within families for a match, and if it is not possible, the program is their second option.
Quintana said that 4,000 people search for a match every day.
“It’s such a great thing because you’re saving somebody’s life,” Quintana said, “and [the program] is the last resort that they have.”
Delta Zeta designated a table for guests who wanted to register with the program that night, which included filling out an application and giving a sample cheek swab, a process that Quintana says takes only 40 seconds.
Registration was also available online, and anybody between 18-60 years old could fill out the online application and send a cheek swab through the mail. Quintana said the potency of bone marrow is best in people who are in their 20s and 30s.
During Facella’s 5-month battle, she was looking for a donor because her siblings were not a match, McCawley said. Facella did not continue attending school that fall semester, but when she spoke to people, she gave an update on her new treatments and mentioned she was going to beat cancer.
“She always felt like something could be done,” McCawley said.
When Facella began losing her hair, McCawley said she would post new pictures of her different colored wigs on Facebook. According to McCawley, “she always had tenacity.”
The USF community has supported Delta Zeta’s efforts since their first benefit dinner in 2006.
“I think it’s our continued effort to bring awareness and how it affects a lot of us,” McCawley said. “We do it for Ali, but also in recognition of everyone else that [has] fought the battle.”