by Melissa Paniagua / photo by Randy Tunnel
Celebrating 21 years, Man and Woman of the Year (MWOY)—one of several fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS)—has helped to bring blood cancer research and patient education to new levels.
In this 10-week competition, community locals reach out to friends and businesses, contending for the honor of being named the MWOY, breathing hope for a cure into The LLS. These “champions of hope” are granted the honor of meeting the true heroes, leukemia and lymphoma patients and survivors: the Boy and Girl of the Year. Meeting these children is a humbling experience, the pivotal force behind the campaign.
What started as a memorial for a 39-year-old Hastings department store employee who lost his life to leukemia has spread its wings. Flourishing for two years in Monterey County, MWOY helps to fund several research grants, including 40 research projects at The University of California San Francisco and Stanford University.
The LLS, founded in 1949, is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. The organization utilizes fundraisers such as MWOY in order to raise public awareness; the ultimate goal of which is to eradicate leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Campaign kickoff began February 21, 2013 with the motto, “Someday is Today.”
Cooper John Bonessa, this year’s nominated Boy of the Year, began the quest to fight acute lymphoblastic leukemia on December 30, 2011 at the age of seven. Unaware of the high tides before him, this young crusader chose to fight and has been bravely doing so each day since his diagnosis. With the full support of a family and doctors who he calls “terrific,” Cooper is never alone. Mom and Dad both remain strong, wearing warrior faces in times of treatment to uplift Cooper’s spirit. Cooper’s own positive attitude and disposition help him to remain healthy.
Now eight years old, Cooper enjoys one of his greatest loves, fishing on weekends with his father, which also provided him with great conversation while in the hospital. Considered to be in the maintenance stage of cancer for two more years, Cooper is required to take oral chemo treatments every night, go to the hospital once a month, and have a weekly blood test.
An estimated 957,902 people in the United States are living with, or are in remission from, leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or myeloma. For this reason and others, Cooper is forever grateful for his blessings, never taking a day for granted, trudging ahead with amazing strength and dignity. Strong hearted, humble, and grateful, this Boy of the Year represents inspiration for others.