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The Greatest Honor of My Life

Erin Zammett Ruddy

We did it! Last night I was named Woman of the Year for the NYC chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This means my team and I raised the most money during the 10-week competition. I can't share our total publicly yet but I can tell you we blew our goal out of the water (and our goal was $100,000). Craziness, right?

After snapping a few celebratory photos, the Man of the Year (an awesome guy named Manu Nathan—congrats, Manu!), asked me how the hell I raised all that money in 10 weeks. My answer: It was a team effort. And it was. I had the most incredible team who took this campaign on as their own. And people literally came out of the woodwork to support us. Facebook is largely to thank for that, of course—I honestly don’t know how people raised money before social media. I got donations from my high school prom date, from the Spanish exchange student who lived with us when we were in elementary school, from old teammates, old friends, new friends, friends of friends and pretty much everyone in between. Bay Deli raised $200 in change for us—that’s a lot of egg sandwiches! I was humbled on a daily basis by how many people truly wanted to be a part of our campaign and whether it was a $10 donation or a $1000 donation or a custom-made, one-of-a-kind wine rack, I’ve been truly blown away by the support. And it feels so good to share this with so many people—including all of you. I can honestly say that I have never worked harder on anything in my life and I have had the best time doing it.

My amazing campaign team!

The most amazing part of the night: About a half hour into the event, I was standing around chatting with people and in walks my oncologist, Michael Mauro. He flew in from Portland, Oregon to surprise me! I immediately started bawling when I saw him. It was the most incredible moment. Dr. Mauro has been with me every step of the way for the past 10 years and he is the kindest, gentlest, smartest man around. The fact that he wanted to be there for me, for this, is a testament to who he is and how lucky I am to have him in my life. I am crying just typing this.

I couldn't stop crying when Dr. Mauro walked in!

Because we didn’t know who was going to win until the second they announced it (at 10:30 p.m. last night!), all the candidates were told to prepare an acceptance speech. It was just like the Oscars. Seriously. I was a nervous wreck because as much as I knew we’d won no matter what (we reached our goal and that was winning for us), I really did want to win win. What can I say, I’m a competitive person! When they announced the amount we raised, the whole room went nuts. And when they called my name, it was like an out of body experience. I was so excited I wanted to jump up and down but I was afraid something might pop out of my dress. So I walked up to the podium and gave my speech. Only I don’t really remember what I said because I was so overwhelmed and excited and happy and nervous. Below is what I had written out to say. I didn’t read from the paper of course, and there was stuff I forgot and more off-the-cuff stuff I added, but I wanted to share it with all of you because I think it really sums up why I did this and why it was the most incredible achievement/experience/honor of my life:

Here’s my speech:

As an LLS board member and a leukemia survivor, I know that it is not about winning. I know the real victory is that we all raised as much as we possibly could for this incredibly important cause. I know that all of us are helping to save lives and that’s what this campaign is about. As the tagline says…whoever wins, cancer losers.

That said, I really wanted to win this thing and I’m SO glad I did. It’s not because of the title (or the fame that I’m sure awaits), it’s because of all the people who have rallied around me to get me to this point. I have asked so much of people and they have given me more. Not just their money—which was key, and much appreciated—but their time and their creativity and their love and support. This truly was a team effort. My friends—both the facebook kind and the real-life kind—my family, my entire hometown got involved. So to be able to bring this title home for all of them is the perfect way to say thank you.

Some of those very special people are sitting right over here—my campaign team and our extended campaign team—we have 57 people with us tonight!!! I want to give a special shout out to Erica Nottingham, Meredith Shanley, Kim Gilroy, Kyle and Elissa Mostransky, Joanna Parides and Ellen Howse. I honestly wouldn’t be standing up here right now if it weren’t for all of you. And of course my parents, John and Cindy, my sisters Melissa and Meghan and my husband, Nick who all still love me despite the fact that I turned into the fundraising version of a bridezilla several times during the campaign.

The same goes for Sara Lipsky from LLS who was my coach and often my therapist over the past 10 weeks. Not only have you been a great mentor but a great friend and I’m really not sure how I’m going to survive without talking to you every day. Everyone at LLS has been amazing and taken my calls and emails and texts around the clock (I’m pretty intense) and never once complained. (At least not to my face.) I’ve been involved with LLS for 10 years now and the thing that struck me then and continues to blow me away today is how kind and awesome the staff is. 

The reason I got involved in LLS all those years ago and the reason I wanted to do this campaign in particular is because I have always felt like a lucky cancer patient. That seems like an oxymoron but it’s true. As you saw in the video and as Sara mentioned, I’m on Gleevec, a little pill I take every day that keeps my cancer in remission.

Gleevec was approved by the FDA just six months before I was diagnosed. Before Gleevec, the survival rate for my type of leukemia was 55 %. Today, thanks to Gleevec, the survival rate is 95 %. How amazing is that? LLS played a huge role in funding Gleevec’s development. I am literally here tonight because of LLS and the groundbreaking work they fund. So I want to thank all of my fellow candidates for raising this insane amount of money for LLS, and I want to thank all of you for being here tonight so we can find more of these miracles. So more cancer patients can call themselves lucky.  

My sister Melissa was not a lucky cancer patient. She was diagnosed when she was 7 months pregnant, she went through grueling chemotherapy and radiation, a relapse, a stem cell transplant. But despite how rough it was for Melissa, she always knew how to look on the bright side—she would literally take the subway down to my apartment from her radiation appointments at Sloan Kettering and force me to go out to dinner and drink wine with her. We’d  turn those awful days into a girl’s night and sleepover. She never gave up hope and she never stopped planning for her future no matter how bleak things got.  I remember when we were both newly diagnosed, we used to fantasize about the life we lead right now, being cancer free, having kids, living out on Long Island surrounded by family and friends. And giving back to LLS, an organization that has given us so much. So to be here on this stage tonight celebrating my 10-year cancerversary and accepting this award with all of my family and friends and most importantly my big sister in the audience, is truly the greatest honor of my life. And now that these 10 weeks are officially over I’m going straight to the bar for some champagne!

Thank you, all of my loyal blog readers, for your love and support over the years. And for indulging me over the past 10 weeks as I wrote about my campaign. I am lucky to have all of you in my life as well. Happy Friday, Happy weekend! 

Striking a pose with my sisters. What a night!