For seven weeks, Rilee Malloy had one mission: to raise $50,000 in honor of her best friend, Maya Collins, who passed away in 2017 after complications with leukemia treatments.
Rilee, a senior at Mason High School, began her campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Student of the Year (SOY) fundraiser on February 17, 2021. SOY is an annual charity event during which high school students all across the country raise funds from their communities to aid LLS in their mission to cure blood cancer and support families impacted by the disease.
After being nominated as a candidate for SOY, Rilee was quick to accept and get to work. She brought together friends, family, and members of the community impacted by Maya’s story, such as Maya’s first bone marrow donor, to form Team Maya the Magnificent. Reaching their goal for LLS would allow a research grant to be opened in Maya’s name.
Maya, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2011, was treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital after her second relapse. Rilee recalls a really bad day Maya had while being treated: “She said, ‘Last night I collapsed on the bathroom floor and just wanted to give up, but then I thought about you, and my friends and family, and I knew I had to keep fighting,’” Rilee says.
That memory Rilee shares, motivates her not only to work towards ending pediatric cancer, but also to treat others with Maya’s signature goodwill. She pledged to complete a random act of kindness every day in Maya’s honor.
“It’s a reminder for me that if Maya could fight cancer for me, I can get through life’s little challenges and live every day for her,” explains Rilee.
Rilee’s experience as a SOY candidate was unlike anything she has done before. She shares, “It was fulfilling to see real change being made throughout the course of my campaign.”
When the fundraiser ended on April 9, Rilee and her team were able to exceed their goal of $50,000 for LLS. Rilee says that although her personal motivation to support the organization stems from watching Maya fight blood cancer, LLS also benefits those impacted by other illnesses.
“Not only does LLS help those with blood cancer, but the work they are doing has also helped those with other types of cancer and nonmalignant diseases,” Rilee says. “This research doesn’t just help patients like Maya. It can help anyone.”