Cancer is a disease that affects nearly everyone in the world. In 2021, nearly 2 million people in the United States alone will be diagnosed with some form of the disease. As of 2019, there are more than 16 million cancer survivors in the United States, with that number continuing to climb.
So much awareness, research and fundraising have allowed for organizations such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) to combat cancer and allow for more people to defeat the disease.
Kaeden Koons-Perdikis, who plays in the ECNL for Bethesda SC, knows that fight personally.
When Koons-Perdikis was just 10 years old, her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She remembers the doctor’s visits, the chemotherapy and, while she wanted to be strong for her younger siblings, she was scared all throughout her mother’s fight.
“I remember just feeling scared,” Koons-Perdikis said of that time in her life. “There was a high chance of her being okay, and everything going well. But, still, when she was going into surgery, I just remember being really scared and even though there has been so much research and all the doctors were like, it’s going to be OK, you still have that fear.”
Thankfully, her mother was OK and did beat cancer, and her fight served as an inspiration for the entire Koons-Perdikis family to help those fighting for their lives. In 2015, her dad participated in the LLS Man of the Year program. And in 2021, Koons-Perdikis participated in the LLS Student of the Year competition in the DC metro area.
“Thyroid cancer, there are so many treatments now,” Koons-Perdikis said. “But I couldn’t imagine having a blood cancer where there’s a 50/50 chance. That’s so scary to me. Me wanting to do the Student of the Year campaign was about making sure no other little kids have to be scared about their parents going into surgery like I was back then.”
The Student of the Year competition brings together students from area schools to raise funds and awareness for leukemia, lymphoma and other forms of cancer. Koons-Perdikis was a leader on Team CUREsaders, a group of 20 soccer players from DC, for the Student of the Year program.
Much like a team on the soccer pitch, for seven weeks, Koons-Perdikis and the rest of Team CUREsaders dedicated themselves to raising money for LLS. They reached out to family, friends, acquaintances and others for donations. They met with local businesses to create sponsorship opportunities. But the most impactful part of the process was meeting with those who have been affected by leukemia and lymphoma, and hearing their stories.
“I was really surprised by how many people are affected by cancer,” Koons-Perdikis said. “What’s really cool about LLS is that the blood cancer research they’re doing directly contributes to finding treatments for other forms of cancer too. So it’s really cool that the work we were doing quite literally was helping everyone we reached out to. And these people were sharing very personal stories with me, which was inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. It was really rewarding.”
Like she does at the beginning of every season, Koons-Perdikis set a personal goal for herself for the Student of the Year competition; she wanted to raise $25,000. As a team, she was hoping for Team CUREsaders to raise six figures.
Koons-Perdikis ended up reaching more than $150,000 on her own. The team itself raised more than $545,000 for LLS.
“My goal was $25,000, but my dad challenged me to raise it to $100,000, and I thought there was no way I could do that,” Koons-Perdikis said. “And then I ended up raising more than $150,000, which I still can’t believe. And the whole team raised more than $545,000, which was incredible.”
It was a full team effort to reach such an amazing total, and the impact of that money is truly felt when seeing that a vast majority of the donations were less than $100. It wasn’t huge donations that helped Koons-Perdikis and Team CUREsaders raise so much money, but rather the sheer number of people who wanted to help those fighting cancer.
“It’s so crazy to see how generous people are and how willing they were to contribute,” Koons-Perdikis said. “When you look at the breakdown of the donations, most were $100 or less. It just shows how many people wanted to contribute and how many people feel it’s important to fight cancer.”
Team CUREsaders’ $545,000 won them the DC Student of the Year award, and broke previous fundraising records. The team finished as runners-up in the national LLS Student of the Year competition, while also setting a record for the most money raised by a non-winner.
For Koons-Perdikis and the rest of Team CUREsaders, it wasn’t about winning the competition. As the fundraising total kept growing and growing, the whole team realized how much good their efforts will lead to.
“At the beginning, I think we were really focused on winning,” Koons-Perdikis said. “But I feel that over time, it wasn’t about winning, it was about what is that dollar amount going to do. After hearing everyone’s stories and knowing the treatments, that more than half a million dollars can be used for so much good. It was bigger than us or any award, and that was really cool.”
Koons-Perdikis has played soccer for as long as she can remember, and has played in the ECNL since she was 12 years old. She credits her experience in soccer with helping her gain confidence and leadership skills – which helped her when talking with businesses, potential donors, and all those who shared their stories with her.
“Playing soccer gives you so many life lessons, especially for this campaign,” Koons-Perdikis said. “You’re working for something bigger than yourself. In soccer, there are 11 of you on the field, it’s not just one of you. Team CUREsaders, there were 20 of us, not just one, and all of us were collectively working together. Our campaign was so much more successful because we were taught teamwork through soccer. A group of girls just raised more than half a million dollars for LLS. That’s incredible.”
Koons-Perdikis wants to continue to be a part of LLS’ fundraising efforts in the future. For this upcoming Student of the Year competition, she will be part of the mentoring program, to assist teams in their fundraising efforts and how to connect with local businesses and survivors to share their stories. It’s just another way she can continue to give back to the incredible survivors of a terrible disease.
“My parents have always said, ‘you have the privilege of being healthy,’ and that’s an opportunity you have to give back,” Koons-Perdikis said. “We had this incredible chance to help fund cancer research, so we wanted to go all in. Next year I’m in the mentorship program and just mentoring the new generation of people wanting to fundraise. I want to stay involved after having such a great experience this year.”
Through participating in the Student of the Year program with Team CUREsaders, Koons-Perdikis got to share her personal story about cancer while also meeting others who have shared that fight. She got to see human kindness in the form of more than $545,000 to help strangers fight cancer and regain their life. To all of those who crossed paths with Koons-Perdikis, she has just one message.
“Thank you for trusting myself, trusting LLS and putting your faith in this team of 16-year-old girls,” Koons-Perdikis said. “Thank you for going beyond yourself and thinking about this community you can affect in a positive way. We all have such an amazing opportunity to give back and showing these small acts of kindness is such an amazing show of support.”