There are many times in life where we are reminded there are no coincidences, and nothing is random. My wife, Sony’s, leadership role as chair of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night is one of those moments where it all makes sense. When Sony lost her sister and best friend, Tina Avritt, to the horrific Leukemia disease 16 years ago, I witnessed the cruelty of the disease. I watched it kill her unborn baby (Ryan Christopher) and take Tina within the same year at age 30 with unimaginable pain and suffering. I don’t think I ever loved anything like Sony loved Tina. I struggled with my own faith, how to support her legacy that was ripped from her, and how to be nurturing in Sony’s long grieving process, but now I finally can.
When Sony decided to step out and take this challenging leadership role, I watched her passion grow at every encounter because she was with Tina again. Tina was a very strong protector of Sony and anyone else under her tent and now Sony is fighting for her and everyone else’s Tina. There is always something deeply inspiring when you see your spouse lead, go all in and raise the bar in the process, and to say that I am very proud of Sony is a great understatement. I am personally moved and see a side of Sony that is bringing people together that is quite rare. She is bringing people together, taking risks by leaving her comfort supporter role and becoming a true advocate of a devastating disease. She now believes in her own research, new learning, and intersections with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that she now has joined the long brutal war to eradicate something that crushes so many around us. I think in her heart she knows her Tina and your Tina can beat it now, not all the time, but we are starting to win way more than we lose.
During Sony’s amazing journey over the past two years as chair has been a transformative experience for me as I learn with her. Prior to Sony’s big move, I think I was becoming numb to hearing about blood cancers all the time because it continued to drop bombs all around me and right on top of several friends that I just tried to tune it out. Sony and her team have inspired me to become a witness to what is possible with the amazing work in research related to blood cancers.
During this supportive role, my long-term CFO, John Harrison’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with a tough case of leukemia right in the middle of this, making me realize we are not going fast enough. I can walk down another hall at Signature HealthCARE and see Dr. Jeff Beaty, another long-term partner who has beaten his blood cancer and is now back to work with passion and joy knowing it is beatable. Jeff benefited greatly from the clinical research to have great clinical pathways to winning.
While at the same time, being with John often over 14 years, I see the pain of uncertainty and the toll it takes in his eyes to see his brilliant 23-year-old son fight daily and have a normal life ripped out of his hands during his senior year at Florida State University after doing everything right as a talented and ambitious young man. John and his wife, Anne, are on that blood cancer roller coaster of a shocking diagnosis, weekly chemo, painful radiation, the search for a donor match, the pain of “Will the transplant take hold?” and hip replacement surgery to endure sometime in the future.
That’s why this year really matters to me, Sony, her team, Matt, the Harrisons, Dr Beaty, and the new “Tina’s” because we need to fill our stadium, cheer hard for the fighters, scream with joy for the victories for the growing number of survivors, and speed up the research so the ugly world of blood cancers can be eliminated in our lifetime.
I am beyond proud of Sony! Excited to be celebrating with Jeff! But still just devastated by what our great friends the Harrisons are going through. We know Matt will win in the end, but it is an epic fight that takes everything he has to win! He is that special, but it is a fight in the future that I hope can someday can be avoided!