When Alison Petok was five years old, her Nana died of leukemia. “If she had been diagnosed a decade or two later, perhaps she would have survived due to the advances in blood cancer research,” Alison reflected. Years later in 2017, Alison was nominated as “Woman of the Year” by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. Between then and now, she has made the quest for a cure a truly personal cause.
While attending graduate school, Alison first became involved with the LLS’s Team in Training Program, the leader in endurance sports training for charity. Team in Training and LLS raise funds through marathons, triathlons, cycling, and hiking, and funds go toward significant cancer therapies like chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and immunotherapy. As a five-season member, Alison raised over $10,000 for the LLS while training for the Broad Street Run 10-miler and the Philadelphia Marathon. In addition, she has been a run coach and fundraising mentor for the program.
Alison’s passion for helping cancer patients is not exclusive to her life outside of work. As a social worker at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson, she provides professional clinical services to patients and families in the Supportive Medicine and Cancer Survivorship program. Recognizing her unwavering dedication to helping the medically underserved, Alison’s Jefferson colleagues nominated her for LLS’s Woman of the Year competition.
Every year, dedicated candidates in communities throughout the United States engage in a competition to earn LLS’s “Man & Woman of the Year” titles. Candidates raise funds for LLS blood cancer research over the course of 10 weeks and compete in honor of children who are local blood cancer survivors, the “Boy of the Year” and “Girl of the Year.” Every dollar raised counts as one vote, and the titles are awarded to a regional man and woman with the most votes at the end of 10 weeks. These top local fundraisers then become eligible to compete for the national titles.
As a finalist for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the LLS, Alison and the other candidates were able to form their own teams and use their creativity to raise funds. Every candidate also received their own personalized fundraising webpage. As part of her campaign, Alison sold custom-made “Make Cancer Extinct” t-shirts and offered several items in an online auction.
Alison’s original fundraising goal was $50,000, and she even found a unique way to honor her beloved Nana by creating the fundraising hashtag #50KforNana. In the end, she exceeded her goal and raised $64,000. Donors to her campaign included both loved ones and complete strangers around the country, thanks to viral social media posts from her friends. The funds she raised will go directly toward the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter.
Although she was voted runner-up for the Philadelphia Woman of the Year, she received the prestigious Citizenship Award for “advancing the LLS mission through outreach, community involvement, and awareness.” She and the other local finalists were honored at the Grand Finale Gala on June 17, 2017, held at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. “It was such an amazing, humbling experience. I didn’t realize I could make such an impact in such a short amount of time,” Alison said.
Now that she has a young son of her own, Alison has an even deeper appreciation for the grandparent/grandchild bond. “It is more important to me than ever to help find a cure for blood cancers so that no grandparent or grandchild has to ever cut their relationship short.”