Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the amount raised at the Feb. 23 event, as well as the amount raised by UofL freshman Patrick McSweeney.
UofL’s raiseRED crew set its most ambitious goal to date this year, targeting $550,000. This number eclipses last year’s amount raised — $459,402.50 — by nearly $100,000.
UofL students met that goal this year, and then some. A total of $601,381 was raised, surpassing the goal by more than $50,000.
Patrick McSweeney, a freshman engineering student who delayed his next cancer treatment in Philadelphia by a week so he could take part in the 18-hour dance marathon, raised $29,000 on his own. Read his full story below:
Patrick McSweeney, a freshman engineering student, wanted to be a part of UofL’s raiseRed 18-hour dance marathon so badly, he delayed his next cancer treatment in Philadelphia by a week so he could be there when it kicks off Feb. 23.
Raising money for pediatric cancer and blood disorders at UofL means that much to him because he learned last month that his own cancer relapsed for the sixth time.
McSweeney, who is 18 now, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, when he was 5 years old. He’s undergone scores of treatments in his lifelong battle, including chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and most recently T-cell treatments.
“I want to turn this negative situation of relapsing into a positive,” he said. “I want to help others, so that no one else experiences what I’ve been through, no one has to relapse six times. One time is enough. They can be cancer free after one time.”
He relayed his story in a video he made recently for social media, asking friends, family and fellow students to share it widely and give to raiseRED. His goal was to raise $5,000. In a few short days, he shattered that goal, raising $20,000, more money than anyone else. His new goal is $25,000.
Hello Everyone! So I had made this video for Twitter but it's too long to post there so I'll just end up putting the…
Kristin Johnson, raiseRED operations director and an engineering student, said McSweeney’s story underscores the importance of raiseRED.
“To know that a group of college kids can make this big of a difference in Patrick’s life, and others’ lives, makes me feel like I have a purpose and that I can make a difference,” she said.
In the last five years, raiseRED has become UofL’s largest student-run philanthropy, bringing in more than $1 million, almost half of that from last year alone. The goal this year is $550,000. Nearly 1,000 are expected to dance in the marathon.
“We’ve had incredible growth,” Johnson said.
The impact of raiseRED: suporting research, patients
Dr. Ashok Raj, UofL’s interim chief, division of pediatric hematology and oncology, said the money funds research, such as understanding how myeloid-derived suppressor cells can be a target for cancer immunotherapy.
Raj said cancer research has paid off tremendously as pediatric cancer death rates have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past four decades.
But cancer, brain tumors in particular, remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. The rates of pediatric brain tumors are higher in Kentucky, he said, and as much as 42 percent higher in the Appalachian region of the state.
“The need for our work is even more pronounced locally,” he said.
raiseRED funding also supports direct patient care, including the position of Spencer Moorman, the social worker in the hematology and oncology clinic. Hired in 2015, she helps patients and their families understand their treatment options, connects them with resources, transportation and other needs.
“I know firsthand what a resource that is to have when your child is battling cancer. I don’t know how they did it without her, honestly,” said Dr. Maria Beck, whose 18-year-old daughter Anna-Maria Beck has been a patient since she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at 7 years old.
Maria Beck is quick to explain that, for her family, the best benefit of raiseRED has been participating. Anna-Maria has made countless friends, gained leadership skills and even come to re-frame how she thinks about her disease.
“Meeting the patients and hearing their stories is such an incredibly special part of the event,” Maria Beck said. “The UofL students are so sweet and solicitous. They make such a big deal over the kids, who get on stage to tell their stories. It’s a powerful thing. My favorite part about it is way it makes the patients feel. Cancer can isolate you. Being connected with peers is really important.”
Last year, UofL students involved in raiseRED helped Anna-Maria Beck throw a dance marathon called ValkyrieBEAT at her high school, Sacred Heart, where she raised $25,000.
This month, she’ll have been fighting cancer for 11 years, through 12 brain surgeries. Her tumor is stable; she’s feeling happy and healthy and sees raiseRED as the ultimate celebration.
“I get to advocate for children in February through raiseRED,” she said. “Now my diagnosis anniversary is kind of fun — it’s a party— a celebration of life.”
UofL students who put countless hours into planning and participating in the event say they get more than they give.
This year, the executive board developed a new program, called Patient Pals, where they pair UofL students with patients to be whatever kind of extra support that patient needs, whether it’s encouraging letters or get-togethers.
Will Lampe, raiseRED programming director and a junior marketing major, was paired with Kaleb, an eighth grade patient. The two connected over Star Wars and have become fast friends.
“raiseRED has made me grow more as a person,” he said. “It’s made me realize what kind of person I want to be.”