April 21, 2012
First-year creative brand management graduate student Catherine Dailey left class and drove to the Willow Lawn Chik-Fil-A on Monday at noon, where she found herself eating anything she could.
Nothing was wrong with Dailey, except that she had just finished a month of practicing strict veganism as a way to fundraise for the American Cancer Society in an event sponsored by BrandCenter students, BeetCancer.
BeetCancer started as an idea with first-year creative brand management graduate student Amanda Lane, who has a friend, Jay McCormick, fighting a form of leukemia.
According to the BeetCancer website, McCormick was treated and was deemed to be in remission by July 2010 but relapsed in February of this year. He is currently undergoing more treatment and is scheduled for a bone-marrow transplant on May 6.
Dailey’s father, John was also affected by cancer and is also currently undergoing treatment for the skin cancer that recently metastasized to both of his lungs.
The fundraiser started with three participants: Lane, Dailey and classmate Schuyler Hunt. It quickly grew to include 14 students at the BrandCenter and 15 students from VCU.
“We started talking about different ways to do a fundraiser, and we came up with the idea of empathizing with the people going through treatment,” Lane said.
“We see the firsthand effect (treatment) has on them,” Lane said.
From watching her friend go through treatment, Lane said she has witnessed symptoms including loss of appetite, nausea and change in taste that can occur because of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Typically, most patients experience a metallic taste that can result in weight loss and acute malnutrition that makes it harder for them to fight off potential infections.
“We decided to empathize with that and go vegan for a month,” Lane said. “We’re giving up all our favorite food.”
At first, Lane and Dailey thought they could raise money by allowing people to pledge money depending on how long participants stayed vegan. It was difficult to arrange for this, so they decided that donors could donate a flat fee through their website (beetcancer.org) and participants would dedicate themselves to a month of veganism.
Dailey, who has two vegan step-brothers, said that at first, she didn’t feel like a month would be much of a challenge.
“You actually realize how many foods have animal byproducts in them, it’s not just meat and dairy,” she said. “Every day you found some other food you weren’t allowed to have.”
Lane said she started feeling irritable and finding inexplicable bruises on her legs throughout the month.
“The biggest thing that I noticed people experienced was constant exhaustion,” Dailey said.
She added that exhaustion is something typically experienced by cancer patients undergoing treatment.
Dailey said that the month put the experience of patients like her father and McCormick in perspective for her. She said she was often irritated and resorted to eating hummus and crackers because of the hassle of figuring out what she could actually eat but knowing that she only had to endure the strict lifestyle for a month helped her get through the difficult times.
“My dad and (McCormick), they’ve been going through treatments for months on end and their symptoms get worse and worse over time,” Dailey said. “I was just hungry for a month, they were losing hair, they got weak, they got sick.”
Despite the physical struggles of the month, Dailey and Lane said they both agree that the gratitude from McCormick and John Dailey kept them pushing through the month.
“Jay’s a 23-year-old man and when he found out (about the fundraiser), he started to cry,” Lane said. “He’s just so grateful and so excited that we were doing it because he’s in Durham away from all of us.”
McCormick is currently receiving treatment at the Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. according to the BeetCancer website.
“It was almost like, if I can’t do this for a month, why should they have any motivation or inspiration to keep fighting?” Dailey said. “I think that was the whole point of this for us — to show them that we empathize what they are going through and truly appreciate how hard they have to push their body just to be treated for it.”