Phoenix resident Sara Mayer aims to raise more than $276,000 to fund blood cancer research, with assitance from these three supporters who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Mayer for Woman of the Year
Mayer lost loved ones to blood cancer and didn’t want anybody else to go through that. She helped found Bee Positive, a team that fundraises for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I formed team Bee Positive in honor of my brother, who I lost to blood cancer when he was 20, and my best friend, Brandi, who also lost her battle to blood cancer,” Mayer said.
“And now my horse trainer [that I had] as a kid is currently in hospice because of her battle with blood cancer. It’s too many people. So, I formed Bee Positive, which is a team of 58 people who are helping me to try and raise as much money as possible in 10 weeks. Hopefully, I would be named Woman of the Year.”
For the Man and Woman of the Year fundraising competition, local leaders nominate candidates, who have 10 weeks to build a team of contributors and collect as many donations as possible. The person who brings in the most money is then named Man or Woman of the Year and moves forward to a national competition. All proceeds go to LLS to help fund blood cancer research as well as financial assistance to patients in need.
“I’m trying to raise the most money ever in Arizona,” Mayer said. “I can’t tell you the amount because that’s a secret. Last year, the Man of the Year raised $276,000 in 10 weeks. So, we’re trying to raise more than that.”
In memory of Brandi Smith
The Bee Positive fundraising group was founded by a group of friends in 2019, to honor Brandi Smith, who died of blood cancer in May 2018. The friends who founded Bee Positive worked with Smith at the Junior League of Phoenix, an organization of women who help volunteer and fundraise for various causes in the city. Smith was president.
Jennifer Elser was a close friend to Smith, and said she was always a positive and giving person who was beautiful on the inside and out.
“Bee Positive” refers to Smith’s blood type, B positive. This also became her slogan during her battle with cancer.
“She found out she had blood cancer, and she was fighting it,” Elser said. “When she found out that her blood type was B positive, she said, ‘Well, that will be my motto from now on.’ So, I started by buying her bee [stickers or pins] if I was out and sent it to her because she couldn’t travel during her treatment.
“Any time I went anywhere, it always felt like she was there in spirit. When she passed away, we didn’t want her memory to die, and so we started fundraising in her honor.”
An Anthem resident, Heidi Surovetz worked as a board member with Smith at the Junior League of Phoenix. They were friends for six years. Since Smith’s passing, Surovetz has been fundraising for LLS, and is part of Mayer’s Bee Positive team for the Man and Woman of the Year Competition this year.
“I joined the campaign to honor lost friends and to help raise funds to find a cure,” Surovetz said. “I am honored and inspired to be involved with this passionate group’s effort.”
As a campaign team member, Surovetz is working with a group of six friends she met at the Junior League of Phoenix. Many of those in her group knew Smith and have also lost a family member to blood cancer. Their goal is to fundraise, volunteer and do whatever they can to help the community.
“As a board member of the Junior League of Phoenix, I am dedicated to volunteerism and giving back to the community,” Surovetz said.
Their nonprofit is called Hats, Horses and Hope, and one of their main events is the Kentucky Derby Fundraiser. This year will be the fourth annual Derby Day, and each year the proceeds have gone to LLS. This year, they have partnered with Bee Positive to contribute to Mayer’s campaign, and the funds will still go to LLS.
“It takes place in Paradise Valley,” Surovetz said. “It’s a day event where we have caterers, we watch the race and there’s entertainment. The fun thing is we have a Wild West historian, who brings his stuff and teaches people to play an old card game called Faro. Then there’s some live music.”
This year’s Derby Day will be held May 1. For details, visit https://bit.ly/3uTVtCe
‘Screw Cancer’ drag show
Megan Wilson lost her mom to multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, in 2017. Since then, she has hosted a drag show fundraiser in honor of her called “Screw Cancer.”
“This is the most representative of who [my mom] was because she loved getting together with friends, having drinks, having a good time and laughing,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the things that we really love about the drag show, it brings like a humor and fun and excitement to the event and is something different.”
Wilson does not keep the show’s profits and neither do the performers.
“We usually have three to four girls,” Wilson said. “This year, we had three. Not only do they volunteer their time, which is amazing, but they also donated their tips to our cause as well. So that was really awesome and helped us get even closer to our goal.”
This year, the Screw Cancer show was held at a Scottsdale softball field to ensure social distancing. It raised $5,000, their highest amount.
Wilson donated the money to the Bee Positive Team for Mayer’s Woman of the Year competition. When combined with Wilson’s other fundraising efforts, she has donated more than $85,000 since 2018.
“When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, her chemo was $300 a week, which was a lot for my parents who were living on a limited income and retirement,” Wilson said. “So, Leukemia Lymphoma Society granted our family a grant that helped us pay for that. I want to give back what they gave our family. We want to continue to help families like mine who need that extra support. So that when they are going through treatment and dealing with cancer, they don’t have to also be stressed about money.”
Homemade lemonade for a cure
Another donation of $1,300 came from Frank Elser, Jennifer Elser’s son. Frank is an 11-year-old who, with the help of his family, set up a lemonade stand outside their North Phoenix home.
This year was the third time they opened the stand. Frank sets up his station, picks lemons from their own lemon trees, and the family hand squeezes the juice.
“I like to have a lemonade stand to raise money to find cures for cancer,” Frank said. “It’s fun, too, and I like helping people.”