Bridget Cook’s cancer has been in remission for six years. But it remains an almost daily part of the former Andover woman’s life.
As a volunteer with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the leading health organization dedicated to raising awareness of blood cancer, Cook has raised money for research, organized educational events and served as a mentor for patients fighting the disease she once did when she was diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin’s lymphoma at just 25 years old.
“It’s definitely a passion of mine,” the now 32-year-old North Andover resident who attended Phillips Academy said of volunteering. “I always knew I wanted to find something I could do charity work for, so when this happened to me, it was the perfect fit. It’s so important.”
Her active role caught the attention of other volunteers in the society, and on March 12, Cook was named as a Massachusetts nominee for its 2015 Woman of the Year, an honor awarded to a woman who raises the most money to help those fighting blood cancer.
Since 1990, the Man and Woman of the Year campaign features hundreds of people throughout the country engaging in a spirited fundraising competition. Each nominee competes for the most votes in their respective categories, with each vote equaling $1. The nominee with the most votes, or the greatest amount of money raised, wins the competition.
The campaign has brought in millions of dollars for blood cancer research over the years, with the 2014 nominees raising more than $30.5 million combined. Male and female candidates compete in honor of the LLS’s Boy and Girl of the Year, respectively.
For Cook, the opportunity to help others battling blood cancer evokes memories of her own struggle seven years ago.
While training for her second Boston Marathon in 2008, she began to experience fatigue unlike anything she had ever encountered. After awhile, the fatigue led to night sweats and rashes. A concerned Cook went to doctors for answers.
“It was just a slew of different things, but my doctors would say, ‘Oh, it’s just seasonal allergies,’” Cook said. “When you look at all those symptoms on their own, you don’t assume it’s cancer in an otherwise healthy 25-year-old person.”
But after seeing allergy specialists and undergoing blood tests, Cook received the shocking diagnosis in July 2008. She had Stage IIB Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the blood cancer caused by abnormalities in the lymphatic system of the body.
“You go on sites like Web MD to see what’s wrong, but I never thought it was going to be cancer,” Cook said. “If I did, I never admitted it to myself.”
But the woman who once conquered Heartbreak Hill was determined to fight the disease head-on. Within two weeks, she began chemotherapy treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, a process that lasted six grueling months. Her last treatment was on Christmas Eve, and by January 2009, doctors informed her the cancer had gone into remission.
Soon after, Cook began volunteering with various Leukemia and Lymphoma Society programs. Today, she serves as co-chairwoman of a group called “Society Connections,” where young professionals come together to host fundraisers. Some of the group’s members are cancer survivors, just like her.
“It helps me feel like there was a reason,” she said. “For me, I have to fund-raise and I have to raise awareness because it helps me understand why I had to go through what I went through. And that’s to give back.”
Cook’s connections to the Andovers run deep. Her mother was raised in Andover and is a graduate of Andover High. Her parents met at Merrimack College in North Andover. Her family moved back to Andover when she was in high school, living on Central Street until 2005, when they moved to North Andover. She returned to North Andover in 2012. She has a sister who lives in North Andover and a brother who is an Andover resident.
She is one of five Woman of the Year nominees representing the Massachusetts chapter this year. She has been working with her team of eight people, all family and friends, in helping to get the word out about her campaign. She hopes to host several events such as a golf tournament and yard sale to raise money for the cause.
“I can’t really be upset, because it’s all going toward the same place,” she said. “But it would be an amazing feeling that all kind of comes full circle for me. I’d be thrilled to represent Massachusetts on the national level. It’s why I’m spending so much time on the campaign.”
Those interested in donating to Bridget Cook’s campaign can visit her official Woman of the Year fundraising page at www.mwoy.org/pages/ma/ma15/bcook5.