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Abolishing Cancer

Born out of one woman’s terrible loss of her daughter more than 40 years ago, the Long Island League to Abolish Cancer has championed the cause of research doctors questing to do just that: abolish the scourge of cancer once and for all, until it is just a far and distant memory.

Lena Gaynes of Plainview, long-time president of the Long Island League to Abolish Cancer (LILAC), said that she was drawn into the fight against cancer when the deadly disease struck too close to home for her to bear.

“This organization is in memory of my daughter Alice, who passed away from cancer at the age of six in 1968...she would have been 50 years old this year,” she said. “When my daughter was ill, I was looking for an organization that could help. I found the Long Island League to Abolish Cancer, which was just forming in 1967, and attended their meetings, and when my daughter passed away we filed in Albany to amend the name and add ‘Alice Gaynes Memorial Chapter’ to it in her memory.”

Based out of the Plainview-Old Bathpage Library, where they hold their monthly board meetings, and boasting more than 100 members, LILAC’s purpose is to provide vital funding to doctors whose cancer research often falls through the cracks, Gaynes said.

”We have doctors at research hospitals that we work with,” she said. “In January, they give us a ‘shopping list’...things they’d like to purchase for their research laboratories, and then we start fundraising.”

LILAC vice-president Evelyn Rose of Smithtown said getting vital equipment into the hands of doctors is uniquely rewarding.

“Last year, we raised enough money to cover everything that our doctors had asked for,” said Rose. “We have a meeting in June at the Plainview Library where we award the grants to the doctors. It’s a general meeting that’s open to the public, and the doctors tell us about their research and what they’ve accomplished.”

Among the important equipment purchased for cancer research in 2013 that LILAC has provided the funding for include an Eppendorf Microcentrifuge for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; a ConCoa CryoWiz Liquid Nitrogen Dewar Switcher and a MVE Cryo Cart for the University of Stony Brook; and a CellSens Dimension with Count and Measure Module with incorporated Digital Camera for Columbia University Medical Center.

To generate the money for their beneficiaries, LILAC conducts a variety of fundraising efforts every year, including card party luncheons, fashion shows, and an annual walk held at Massapequa’s Marjorie Post Park; Rose said that the costs of the non-profit, all-volunteer group are kept to an absolute minimum to ensure that every possible cent raised goes to cancer research.

“We’re a unique organization...we have no paid employees, and our motto is that we’d rather walk a mile to deliver a letter than put a stamp on it,” she said. “On average, 95 to 98 percent of the money we raise goes to our doctors. For example, in our lifetime we’ve donated over $400,000 to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.”  

LILAC was given a chance to see first-hand how they were helping people recently when they were invited by Stony Brook University to tour their research hospital to see the equipment they paid for being put to good use; in addition, the group’s name was inscribed on their wall to immortalize their good deeds. Sloan-Kettering recently honored both LILAC and the memory of Gaynes’ daughter for the differences they are making as well.

The chance to turn her daughter’s tragic death so many years ago into a force of hope and progress has provided Gaynes a strong sense of solace and the perseverance to continue progressing towards LILAC ultimate goal, she said.

“As soon as my daughter died, I was pregnant with my middle child at the time, and I decided to make any negative into a positive...that was how I was able to go on,” she said. “Ever since, it’s been that way, and when the doctors come to speak to us, I see the results of our work...people are living longer, recovering, and I feel that while there’s no cure yet, we’re closer to our goal than ever — to abolish cancer in our lifetime.”

To find out more about the Long Island League to Abolish Cancer Alice Gaynes Memorial Chapter, visit their website at www.lileaguetoabolishcancer.org.