Burbank High seniors Emily Darbinyan and Natalie Ter-Abramyan won the top award at the fourth annual Los Angeles Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Students of the Year gala on Friday, March 6, for their teamwork in raising $229,953 during a seven-week campaign.
The Los Angeles Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) gala “was the culmination of raising over a million dollars for blood cancer research by 16 high school candidates in L.A. County,” explained 2020 Los Angeles County Co-Chairman of the LLS Students of the Year campaign, Wendy Miller, who has also taught English at Burbank High School for the past 24 years.
“There is simply nothing more gratifying than being a part of this organization,” Miller also said. “This evening rivals one of the most poignant moments of in my life, and I will continue to dedicate my time to LLS each year with this campaign. I am so proud of all candidates!”
The seven-week campaign to fight blood cancer ultimately raised $1,228,886 for LLS. In addition to Darbinyan and Ter-Abramyan’s “Sisters of Survivors” team’s efforts, Burbank High junior Carmen Blanchard received honorable mention for raising $68,336 and sophomore Sierra Brogmus raised $23,566.
Miller also noted that Darbinyan and Ter-Abramyan were nominated for the program by her former English student and BHS ASB President David Khechumyan, a recent Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor.
“When I was 12-13 years old, my brother, Alex, was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia,” said Darbinyan. “At only six years old, he did not understand what was happening to him.”
“All he knew was that he had cancer. Seeing him go through that firsthand taught me to appreciate life and never take anything for granted, so I decided that I was going to do everything I can to help people with his diagnosis.”
“That’s when I started hosting an annual toy drive with my mom to help children that were stuck at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for the holidays,” Darbinyan explained. “After our fifth year of hosting toy drives, I was nominated to compete in the 2020 Student of the Year campaign with Natalie.”
Although the LLS Student of the Year campaign could only raise funds during the specified seven week period, Darbinyan and Ter-Abramyan spent months of planning in advance – efforts which took up most of their time.
“We put together a great team of 25 successful and beautiful women who helped us tremendously with the campaign (team name Sisters of Survivors #SOS),” explained Ter-Abramyan. “Our most effective form of raising funds was a 300+ person gala that we threw beginning of the campaign. Since all the expenses to the gala were donated (venue, catering, entertainment), we were able to make a lot of profit.”
“We also had a few smaller events, such as a charity poker night and a vision board party, which helped us raise funds. We couldn’t have made it this far without our events.”
“I participated in the Student of the Year campaign in honor of my little sister who battled cancer at the young age of eight,” continued Ter-Abramyan. “She had a very rare type of cancer: Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma, stage 4.”
“My parents spent countless days and weeks at the hospital with my sister for her treatment. She was getting treated at City of Hope, which was about a 40 minute drive from my house. I was rarely able to go visit. Most of my days were spent home alone with my grandma. I could not focus on school or anything else; I was constantly thinking and worrying about my sister and parents. The separation was unbearable.”
“What I didn’t realize at the time was that nothing would ever be the same. After getting chemotherapy for six months, my sister was doing much better and was finally back home,” Ter-Abramyan continued. “My sister was in remission, which was great, however, we had to be extra careful with her. Every little cough or ache scared my parents, leading them to think the cancer was back.”
“They lived in fear… to this date they still do. I am glad to report that my little sister is now a 16-year-old high school student and also a cancer survivor… she’s my little warrior.”
“I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what my family went through,” Ter-Abramyan said. “This is why I am so passionate to helping this cause.”
Darbinyan hopes to attend UC Irvine in the future and become a BioMedical Engineer, “My dream is to help patients with their treatments as a researcher.”
Although Ter-Abramyan hasn’t yet decided on a college after graduation from Burbank High, she plans to study Business and eventually earn an MBA, focusing on business in entertainment.
“No matter where my career takes me, I will always be involved in cancer research to help find a cure,” Ter-Abramyan added.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Students of the Year campaign is a seven-week philanthropic leadership development program during which students foster professional skills such as entrepreneurship, marketing and project management in order to raise funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest nonprofit fighting blood cancer, according to LLS’ website.
The title “Student(s) of the Year” is awarded to the candidate or co-candidates in each community who raises the most funds during the competition.