Flashing lights. Floor-length gowns. A total of $2.75 million raised in one night.
The Leukemia Ball, the largest non-political black-tie event in all of Washington, DC, happened this past Saturday evening at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. With its mission to ultimately find and fund a cure for blood cancers, it has thus far raised $45 million for the National Capital Area Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 1988.
With the theme of Saturday Night Blues, the 26th annual ball hosted approximately 2,000 attendees this year, in addition to comedian Dana Carvey and musical guests Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts band. Past acts have included Diana Ross and Jerry Seinfeld.
The night began with a VIP reception at 6. As photographers trailed Belushi, guests ordered cocktails and wine at the scattered open bars, and awaited Leukemia Ball co-chairs Jim Davis and Candace Duncan to take the podium. Other VIP members present included Loo Katz, host of 97.1 WASH-FM, executive director of LLS’s National Capital Area Chapter Gabrielle Urquhart, and Kathy Planthaber, this year’s Mission Moment honoree who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2010. There were also friends, supporters, and volunteers such as Matthew Forke, a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
After the reception, guests could peruse more than 400 silent auction items—including a basketball autographed by Wizards player John Wall, exotic getaway trips, and an entire section dedicated to children’s bikes—while listening to jazz music played by a saxophone, keyboard, and guitar band. Crowds gathered around the on-display Mercedes 2013 GL450 SUV and the C250 Sport Sedan, which were to be raffled off later that night for $100 a ticket.
The event in the ballroom kicked off with a rendition of the national anthem before the evening’s four emcees—local news anchors Angie Goff (NBC4), Laura Evans (FOX5), Anita Brickman (WUSA9), and Alison Starling (WJLA7)—took the square-shaped stage in the middle of the ballroom. After they announced the awards for Titans of Business and Philanthropy and Partners Against Blood Cancer, the emcees encouraged everyone to dig into their dinner: an appetizer of salmon followed by filet of beef paired with lobster tail and polenta, and raspberry mascarpone mousse cake. Guests greeted one another with hugs and hellos, weaving through 200 tables and stopping to take photographs of the blue lighting and tall floral centerpieces.
The lively atmosphere then shifted, as Mission Moment honoree Kathy Planthaber went onstage. She told her story of being diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, and of her devastating relapse this past December. “I was planning my own funeral, wondering how I wanted to be remembered,” she said, pausing for a moment with tears in her eyes. After sharing that she is now doing better with declining myeloma numbers and wishes above all for future retirement with her husband, Greg, Planthaber received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Soon after, at around 10, Wayne’s World star and former Saturday Night Live cast member Dana Carvey entertained guests with his spot-on imitations of politicians including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before choosing the two winners of the Mercedes-Benz giveaway from a silver raffle drum. Finally, to close out the evening, all eyes turned to Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts Band, who played on the front main stage.
There are about 120 medicines to treat leukemia and lymphoma diseases currently undergoing trial, and co-chair Jim Davis took the time to remind everyone that the funds raised to help find a cure truly do make a difference.
In the year 2000, he was just another attendee at the Leukemia Ball, where he found out that a drug to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) called Gleevec was undergoing trial. Two years later, he was unexpectedly diagnosed with CML during a routine physical after a whitewater kayaking trip. Today, Davis remains in remission by continuing to take Gleevec, the drug he heard about 13 years ago.
He told guests, “I am living proof that your efforts have not been wasted.”