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Locals nominated for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Man & Woman of the Year Campaign

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Posted at 7:30 AM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 18:53:15-04

YORK CO, Va. - Right now across the country and the Commonwealth, people are competing to become the Man & Woman of the Year.

While the title is enticing, it's not just for glitz and glam -- it's a chance to save lives.

The annual philanthropic fundraiser, hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, is to benefit blood cancer research. Candidates are chosen to represent their local LLS branch, like the Hampton Roads one in Norfolk, and see how much money they can raise in about two months.

News 3 caught up with two of the local candidates.

Toni Chavis from York County owns TTC Enterprises/Opulent Design, is President of the Chamber of Commerce and is incredibly active in the community. She was nominated by another business owner because of her heart and philanthropic spirit.

"I truly felt like it was an honor to even be asked," she said. "I just do what I do. My focus is not on being recognized or being seen. I just want to help, I want to support our community, I want to help people."

Chavis lost her maternal grandfather to cancer and said other family members are also in the fight for their lives.

She said she also has her own struggles. "I battle lupus and fibromyalgia, so I understand what it is like to have a health crisis and learn how to live despite a chronic condition," she said. "I have lupus, but it does not have me. There is currently no cure for these conditions, and there is no cure for cancer, but I believe we will win these battles."

Another familiar face in the running for Man of the Year is D'Shawn Wright. Like Chavis, Wright is also from York County, owner of Body By D Gym and Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce. He is known for giving back and making meaningful change in the community.

Finding a cure to cancer, regardless of what type, is a huge passion of Wright's, because his father passed away from lung cancer at 59 years old. Wright said his father was not even a smoker.

"I knew there was a lot of weight to that responsibility, so I was going to need a great team behind me to really do as much as we can possible to really help in this fight against cancer," Wright said.

From April 7 until June 17, Chavis and Wright, along with eight other candidates in the Richmond Region, will see how much money they can fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Funds raised from Man & Woman of the Year help find cures and ensure access to treatments for all blood cancer patients:

  • LLS funds research to advance breakthrough therapies for blood cancer patients.
  • LLS is the leading source of free blood cancer information, education and patient support.
  • LLS is the voice for blood cancer patients and survivors today.

"The bottom line is that LLS is a world-leading nonprofit, volunteer health organization and they’re just dedicated to finding a cure for blood cancer and ensuring that their patients have access to lifesaving treatment," Chavis said.

In the annual competition, candidates also participate in honor of their local Boy & Girl of the Year—young cancer survivors in their communities.

Holden was selected locally as the 2021 Boy of the Year. He was less than a year old when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He went through five rounds of chemotherapy in six months and is now in remission.

Unfortunately Holden's family is no stranger to leukemia. Holden's dad and grandmother also had this same type of AML, and they share a gene that's prevalent in each of their cancers.

When asked how he's doing now, his mom said, "Holden is a typical 2-year-old. He is loud, loves to run with his grocery cart, and will insist on giving kisses whenever he hears someone say 'Ow.'"

Emily, now a teenager from Chesapeake, was selected as the 2021 Girl of the Year. She was diagnosed with AML in 2012. After four months of hospitalization and intense chemotherapy, there was no longer evidence of the disease, but she relapsed seven months later.

After that happened, treatment consisted of chemotherapy, full body radiation and a bone marrow transplant in 2014. She has been in remission ever since.

Today she is a typical teenager. She plays softball and volunteers at a local ranch to helping those with special needs ride horses. She's living her "best life" and is making up for all the years she "lost" fighting cancer.

"Without this, people caring, people just supporting the research and raising the funds to keep going kids like her and Holden wouldn’t still be here and so that’s what this is all about," Chavis said. "These discoveries [from our fundraising] have translated to other diseases, their treatments pioneer blood cancers that are in clinical trials and it treats bone cancer, breast, brain, lung and pancreatic cancers."

According to LLS, they have helped advance 60 of the 71 blood cancer treatment options approved by the FDA since 2017.

Wright added, "Some people will be like, 'I can’t donate $1,000.' Yeah, that could be true, but you can donate $10, you know, there’s always something we can do. Don't let what you cannot do stop you from what you can do."