Driven to fundraise for cancer research

Local residents initiate new philanthropic efforts


With the spring months within grasp, talk is already starting to surface about the many scheduled events on Long Island to raise funds for a myriad of good causes — the Relay for Life and Strides Against Breast Cancer, to name a few.

But sometimes, circumstances find a person so passionate and eager to make a difference for a cause, that they can’t wait for any particular event. Such is the case with area residents Clara Leyendecker and Rony Kessler, both of whom are organizing fundraisers for more research on cancers that have had a profound impact on their lives.

Leyendecker, a 16-year-old Malvernite and junior at Valley Stream North High School, is focused on raising awareness and funds for leukemia, which struck her father, Tom, in 2012. “He’s always been a healthy person,” said Clara. “But this is a long term thing, with many rounds of chemo. Everything was changing and it was very overwhelming.”

For nearly a year, Clara and her dad have been in discussions with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society about starting a “Student of the Year” effort on Long Island, where student teams race against a six-week clock to see which team can raise the most donations. “The Student of the Year program is something the society has done all over the country, but they haven’t done it here on Long Island,” said Tom. “We have been acting as the charity’s advisers on how we could put together a program here.”

Tom, who has been in remission for four and a half years, the doctors found his leukemia during a routine blood exam, which showed he had no white blood cells. Five days later, he was getting extensive chemotherapy treatments. “I spent 33 days in the hospital the first time, and then I spent the next five months going back in and out for different chemotherapy treatments and blood transfusions,” Tom said. The treatment for his leukemia required several days as in inpatient at North Shore hospital.

His experience so affected Clara that she immersed herself learning about the disease, and last year, was fervently jumped in when Leukemia and Lymphoma Society asked her, her dad and friend, Laila Drosman to get their Long Island “Student of the Year” effort off the ground.

Due to their help, there are now 14 different Long Island teams raising sums of cash that will be left undisclosed until the last day of the effort, which culminates on March 23 at the Fox Hollow Country Club. The team with the greatest amount of money will be designated the organization’s Student of the Year.

You can contribute to Clara Leyendecker’s effort by visiting this shortened link to her Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising page:

Bladder Cancer Awareness Network

A few miles away from the Leyendeckers, another fundraising effort is well underway. Rony Kessler, a member of the Central Nassau County Rotary, is in the process of organizing his first walk to raise funds for the Bladder Cancer Awareness Network, an organization that has helped him as a bladder cancer survivor. Kessler, together with the rotary, has organized the walk at the Center for Teaching Science and Learning on Sunday May 21 from 1 – 5 p.m. “I was without symptoms and the cancer was found while I underwent a routine ultrasound test,” recalled Kessler. “The alert technician saw something, and my urologist immediately sent me for a CT scan which clearly showed the tumor and the resulting biopsy showed it was malignant.”

After two years of treatments, he had to follow up with numerous other tests and cat scans. His doctors said he must go through these for a total of 10 years. He’s been fortunate, however, to have negative results for the past 4 ½ years. He however still has to undergo a battery of tests including cystoscopies, CT scans and expensive lab tests for a total of 10 years. The upside, however, is that he has been fortunate to have negative results for the past four and a half years.

Kessler became involved with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network when he and his wife Anna helped lobby Congress to declare May as Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, which was declared in May 2016.

In addition to his own diagnosis, Kessler was also surprised to discover that his sister Naomi also had bladder cancer, and later developed lung cancer. He said he would be walking in his sister’s memory this May.

To date, Kessler and the rotary have raised in excess of $10,000 and have a new goal to raise $25,000. “We hope and pray that raising awareness and more research grants will bring about better and earlier detection,” he said. “We hope that mutation analysis will bring about common medication and cancer fighting technology.”

You can contribute to Rony Kessler’s fundraising effort for the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network by going to this shortened link: