BLOOD WORK: Through LLS, Thomas Davis finds that charitable work is in his DNA.
“I want to make sure that it’s more about the charity than it is about me.”
So begins an interview with Kiawah Island Real Estate’s Thomas Davis regarding his charitable work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Like many people dedicated to “giving back,” Davis exudes a quiet modesty unusual in an age of endless selfies and “look at me” social media accounts. His reticence to take the spotlight and to direct focus, instead, on a cause he believes in, seems to mirror the ethics of his dedicated teammates. “The people that work for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society full-time? The volunteers? They’re the best people I know,” he says, “They’re very giving of their time and giving of their money. They’re not in it to make names for themselves or to benefit anything other than, well, really—humanity.”
And considering the impact the organization has made on blood cancer research since its launch in 1949, humanity has been very well-served.
Competition For A Cause
The LLS mission statement reads: “Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.” The organization is considered a nonprofit leader in funding cutting-edge research into cancers of the blood and their information and support services are utilized globally. Davis, who lost a friend to leukemia in 2004, began volunteering for LLS in 2015. Recruited by a buddy, he became a member of the leadership council and has focused his energies on the LLS “Man & Woman of the Year” campaign. “That’s the big event here in Charleston,” Davis explains, “and in my first year, we raised about $150,000.” Impressive, no doubt. But never one to rest on its laurels, the Charleston chapter raised more than a million dollars just three years later. “The growth in this community has been outstanding,” Davis says, adding, “You talk about a group of people that have really put their time, energy and efforts into something. The people we compete against are Washington, D.C, New York, L.A.— cities that are triple our size.”
Vital for reaching LLS’s yearly fundraising goals, the “Man & Woman of the Year” event kicks off with the nomination of candidates. The leadership council aspires to find 18 local individuals who meet certain criteria. Davis explains, “We want to nominate someone who might have the right exposure, the right contacts, the pull, the resources to raise a team of 10-20 people and to raise at least $50,000.” Once candidates are chosen, they build their individual teams and together they work towards raising more money than other nominees. It’s a spirited competition involving letter writing campaigns, phone calls, and enlisting friends and family for donations—Davis recommends wedding guest lists as a good resource for potential donor names. The fundraising efforts unfold from mid-February through April and ends in May when The Man & Woman of the Year Gala is held to announce and celebrate the winner. All proceeds benefit LLS advocacy, research, and financial assistance for blood cancer patients.
Davis admits that, in 2017, while serving as a team leader, he put in “a lot” of time. Between his full-time sales role at Kiawah Island Real Estate and the taxing hours required to make a life-saving impact for LLS, he found himself longing for some time off. But he fought the urge. “It’s a huge commitment and it’s tough in the crunch of it, but at some point, even though I was really tired and wanted a couple days break, I thought: the people we’re raising this money for don’t ever get a break so it’s awfully selfish to think, well, I need some time for myself.” That same dedication was reflected in his team. “One of the things that I love about this organization is that real commitment is a common thread throughout it,” Davis states, adding “Everyone realizes what the end goal is and everyone’s always willing to put the time and energy into reaching it.”
Every 3 minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer. More than 1/3 of blood cancer patients do not survive five years after their diagnosis. Every nine minutes an American dies from blood cancer.
The numbers are sobering.
But LLS boasts numbers of their own, an impressive measure of their success in fighting the disease: In 2018, alone, LLS provided $108 million in financial assistance for more than32,000 patients; A travel assistance program served 1,176 patients in medical need of air travel and lodging expenses with its $529,000 donation; More than 1,600 blood cancer patients in crisis benefited from direct financial support from the organization. And on the research front, since its inception, LLS has invested more than $1.2 billion into breakthrough therapies. Davis is further encouraged by the broader reach of leukemia and lymphoma study, explaining that “blood cancer research is far easier to do than any other type. It provides an easy window into the disease and will lead to headway in all other forms of cancer.” Since 2000, in fact, nearly 40% of FDA-approved new cancer therapies were initially aimed solely at blood cancer — and LLS led the charge to advance most of them. In the past two years alone the FDA approved 39 blood cancer medications; LLS supported 34 of these. This trend is poised to continue into 2019.
For Thomas Davis and the LLS, “giving back” is a long-term venture. Now entering his fourth year involved with the nonprofit, he’ll embark on the dizzying “Man & Woman of the Year” endeavor again in just a few weeks. But there’s a heartfelt reason for his taking it on each winter. “That ten-week push between February and May is intense,” he admits, “But it’s nothing compared to sitting in front of a doctor and getting a cancer diagnosis. In this work, you feel a tiny bit of that weight. That stays with you.”
For more information on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or volunteer opportunities, please visit https://www.lls.org/