7 Reasons Why Lights of Hope Matters to our Volunteers
By: Priyanka Konanur
Photos courtesy of Hyacinth Burrowes, Paul Adam and Elisabeth Drabkin
Lights of Hope is the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s signature fundraising event dedicated to honoring those who have been touched by cancer and remembering those we’ve lost. This year is the 13th anniversary of this event. A large display of Lights of Hope bags will take place at Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C. on September 19th, as well as displays across the country throughout the summer.
What makes Lights of Hope truly special is it is a volunteer-led effort. Volunteers from every state, and Puerto Rico and Guam, take time each year to raise funds to make cancer a national priority and raise awareness to help end cancer as we know it, for everyone. We spoke to seven incredible volunteers about what Lights of Hope means to them.
1. “I fundraise [for Lights of Hope] because more than one person in my immediate family has battled cancer. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you start to see the limitations of treatment, insurance and legislation. ACS CAN fights to make the necessary changes a priority and I couldn't be happier to support this cause.” –Hyacinth Burrowes, Florida
As the Vice State Lead Ambassador in Florida, Hyacinth is dedicated to improving health equity in her home state as well as across the nation. She understands that cancer affects everyone, but it does not affect everyone equally. She is passionate about helping remove barriers to care for all communities.
2. “I participate in Lights of Hope to raise funds so we as volunteers can continue our advocacy mission to make legislators aware of policies and bills that support cancer patients and their families. I also participate in memory of my parents who I lost to cancer. The loss of my dad when I was in high school was due to lymphoma. As a volunteer for ACS CAN, I urge our lawmakers to invest in these areas. My mom started smoking at a young age before studies were done on the effects of tobacco addiction. I lost her to lung cancer. Displaying Lights of Hope bags in DC and in our neighborhoods is a visual reminder of real people that we have lost to cancer and who have survived cancer, and why [their] stories are so important.” –Lori Garcia, California
To honor her mother, Lori works on anti-vaping and flavored tobacco laws with lawmakers to prevent young people from becoming addicted and facing lifelong consequences of tobacco use. She also advocates for advancements in cancer research and clinical trials, in hopes someone like her father can become a survivor.
3. “[I joined] the fight against cancer because my Uncle Naris Blake and best friend Alexis Harper both died from cancer. Each year my work grows bigger and more impactful. I am supported by my husband and our teenage twins, who are my core team members.” –Dr. Andrea Blake-Garrett, New Jersey
Dr. Blake-Garrett recently joined the New Jersey volunteer team as the Ambassador Constituent Team Lead for congressional district 10. She is an author, public school administrator, and health and wellness coach and believes in teaching advocacy as a lifelong skill. She wants children to be empowered to advocate for their health as they grow up.
4. “My 'why’ first started because I have a sister who is a two-time breast cancer survivor and I honor her with every dollar I raise. But my 'why’ got even bigger as we lost my twin brother to leukemia. So for the past three years, my fundraising is [has been] in honor of both my sister, a survivor, and my brother, who is gone but never forgotten. It’s all in hope that one day we will find a cure. That is why I fundraise for Lights of Hope.” –Paul Adam, Rhode Island
Paul serves as Rhode Island’s State Lead Ambassador and works tirelessly to lead his team of volunteers to be mighty advocates. Paul has shared his personal story to help advocate for legislation that would help limit costs for cancer patients and families.
5. “I fundraise because the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network confirms that one person can genuinely make positive change in our world. I fundraise for love. For the love that disappeared when my children lost their mother to cancer. So others don’t experience this painful loss of love. For love of friends I’ve lost to cancer, for friends who battled and are now survivors. For love of all the volunteers I stand alongside, telling our stories for change. To change the trajectory of cancer...to change our lawmakers’ way of thinking, putting faces and stories to policies and funding. Legislators need to understand and accept that bills are not just words on paper, budgets are not just line items on a spreadsheet. I fundraise so my voice, my story, [my late wife] Betsy’s story will continue to have strength, will continue to be heard, will continue to compel change in the fight against cancer.” –Vince Marchetta, Ohio
Vince lost his wife Betsy to metastatic cervical cancer, which was devastating to his family. As the grief lifted, Vince developed a passion to join the fight against cancer. He felt Betsy’s story needed to be heard. The Lights of Hope displays he is a part of send a clear message to lawmakers that we need to invest in cancer research so no one has to hear ‘there is no cure’ someday.
6. “ACS CAN dedicates so many resources to making sure that I’m here, healthy, and able to support an organization that supports not only me but also so many people I care about and who care for me. I didn’t choose to be the 'Cancer Mom', 'Cancer Friend', or 'Cancer Person Writ Large', but I did decide to be a 'Cancer Advocate'. Anything I can do to raise awareness around early detection, treatment, and caregiver support gives me purpose and helps me show my young children how we can turn personal struggles into something good for so many.” –Elisabeth Drabkin, Virginia
Although Elisabeth is new to ACS CAN, she blew us away last year by raising over $15,000 during her first-ever Lights of Hope. She recently stepped up to be Virginia’s State Lead Ambassador and is leading the charge in advocating for important cancer issues across the state.
7. “I fundraise for Lights of Hope and ACS CAN in memory of my mom, Rhonda, who passed of metastatic breast cancer at the age of 47 when I was just 20 years old. She was diagnosed young at just 39. Advocacy and equity were values she instilled in me at a young age, and [volunteering] with ACS CAN is my way to continue that for other cancer patients and families.” –Mikala Bosquet, Maine
Mikala, Maine’s State Lead Ambassador, is a social worker in the oncology world and the legislation that ACS CAN is working on directly impacts her patients and their families every day—and will continue to for years to come. She wants to be a part of making lasting, positive change in the lives of cancer patients and their loved ones.
These are just a handful of stories and reasons why Lights of Hope is important to our volunteers. Lights of Hope is an event full of heart. Each volunteer fundraises because they truly believe in our mission and are passionate about ending cancer as we know it, for everyone
This year, we hope across the nation we will have over 65,000 Lights of Hope. Each Lights of Hope bag represents a story and sends a message to lawmakers that we need to make cancer a national priority. Please consider making a donation to honor someone in your life that has been touched by cancer.