Wendy Landes, 56, was a renowned mediation lawyer, avid tennis player, active part of her Los Angeles community, mother of three, wife of 29 years, rock of her family—until one day when everything changed. In the fall of 2008, Wendy was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer called Liposarcoma. Since that date, she has undergone six chemotherapy treatments, two 13-hour surgeries and a round of radiation; but so far, nothing has worked.
Now, it is Wendy’s family’s turn to take care of her.
Ali and Matt, twin 25-year-olds, and Jackie, 20, are Wendy’s three children. Despite Matt and Ali having full time day jobs in New York and Los Angeles, respectively, and Jackie being a student at the University of Miami, the Landes kids spend roughly 40 hours a week organising an annual “Wendy Walk.”
The Wendy Walk, now held on three different days in New York, L.A. and Miami, where her children reside, has raised nearly a million dollars so far for Liposarcoma research.
A hundred per cent of the money raised goes to a team of Liposarcoma experts from around the world working collaboratively on a cure through the Wendy Walk grant.
In 2013, the Landes’ project will raise another one million dollars in that year alone.
We spoke to Wendy’s 25-year-old daughter, Ali, who revealed just how she and her siblings started and continue to run a successful non-profit organisation—in their free time.
Now let Ali tell you her family’s inspiring story, in her own words.
'My parents met because my grandpa sat next to my dad on a plane from New York to Boston and my grandpa thought he looked tall and handsome enough for my mum. He loved my dad after talking to him and screamed at my grandma to give my dad my mum's number.
'My Grandma Rita did not want to give the number because my mum hated all the guys she set her up with. However, my grandpa forced her to give out my mum's number and my dad called her one month later. They went on their first date in NYC at Parma on the upper east side and were married 14 months later. They have been married for 29 years.'
'My mum is a lawyer and has her own family law practice in Santa Monica, California and serves on the California State Bar Committee. She has won numerous awards for her excellence in family law and dispute resolution.
'My dad Robert Landes recently sold Fetch Technologies to Connotate and is currently Chairman of Geosemble.'
Matt Landes, 25: Lives in Beverly Hills, CA. and is the Food and Beverage Manager at the Montage Hotel.
Ali Landes, 25: Lives in New York City, and is the Development Manager at Met Council, a large NYC social service agency whose mission is to serve poor New Yorkers from every zip code. Prior to her job at Met Council she worked for New York City Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio.
Jackie Landes, 20: Junior at University of Miami, Florida, majoring in sports administration and has interned for Fox Television two years in a row.
'Often in one day my mum would hike, play tennis and maybe even squeeze in a yoga class before meeting a client at her office.'
'My mum had her first major surgery in October of 2008. We found out they had removed an eight pound Liposarcoma tumour, but we did not realise just how devastating this cancer was until it started growing back in June of 2009.
'She failed her first two chemotherapy treatments. Later, we found out her second chemotherapy treatment failed and her tumors were growing at about 50 per cent every two months. We were so upset and scared.'
'In January of 2011 my mum had a 13-hour surgery and just this past February she had another 13-hour surgery.'
'My brother, sister, and I knew we needed to do something, we wanted to save our mum.'
'Starting and running a successful non-profit organisation has been an incredible but fulfilling challenge.'
'The first year we had all the Wendy Walks on the same day.
'We were all walking on the same day at the same time for my mum.
'After the first walk my mum felt so hopeful and inspired that we decided the following year we would have all the walks on different days so that she could come to each walk and experience all the love and support.'
Despite having full time jobs, Wendy's kids spend about 40 hours a week planning each year's Wendy Walks.
'I am very involved with the Wendy Walk. I probably spend roughly 40 hours a week on it and a lot more in the days leading up to the event.
'I work mostly after hours and on the weekends in order to make it happen, because a lot goes into an event like this including getting sponsorships, doing donor outreach, helping with the marketing materials, the video, the website, and I spend a lot of time trying to understand how we can reach more and more Liposarcoma patients and their families so that they know we are a resource for them.
'I am so lucky to have an incredible New York Wendy Walk Committee working with me on the project. I am also very fortunate that my boss and coworkers are extremely supportive of my fight for my mum, many of them attend the walk each year. They even let me take time off to spend with my mum in L.A. when she is very sick.
'My sister spends a lot of hours talking to all the fraternities and sororities at University of Miami in order to get them to support the walks and she is the liaison between the University and the Wendy Walk. My brother Matt runs a large portion of L.A. walk, organising the vendors in the Pacific Palisades who support our efforts, and working with the Los Angeles Wendy Walk Committee.
'We all think about the Wendy Walk 24/7 and call each other in the middle of the night or early in the morning whenever we think of a good idea for the walk. We will do anything to find a cure.'
Around 500 people walk in each city, but close to 3,000 people give their support through donations.
The Wendy Walk has partnered with the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative and all funds earned go to researching cures for Liposarcoma.
'I researched and researched and found the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative, which is run by Bruce and Beverly Shriver. The Shrivers had lost their daughter to Sarcoma and said that we could start an event and all the funds would go to researching cures for Liposarcoma.'
'Throughout this journey she has failed six chemotherapies and tried her first cycle of radiation.
'Nothing has worked on my mum so far and each surgery is more and more taxing on her remaining organs and her body.'
The funds Wendy Walk has raised now help fund two international collaborative research grants. Before Wendy, there was very little known about this rare form of cancer.
The hope is that Wendy Walk becomes the premiere event for Liposarcoma, uniting those few affected by it around the world.
'The hope is that Wendy Walk becomes the premiere event for Liposarcoma. We want anyone who is affected in any way by this disease to know that Wendy Walk is working for them and that we are their resource for finding a cure!
'One of the goals of Wendy Walk is to change the face of what cancer looks like, to let people know that life can still be filled with so much love and wonderful moments even in the face of serious illness. We want everyone who suffers from a rare cancer to know that they do not have to fight alone, but that there is a community waiting for them that cares and understands.'
The Landes' have learned 3 key points to running a successful non-profit organisation—in their free time.
1.) 'Without funds raised by private donors, there is no hope. We lead with this message due to the urgency of our need and the fact that there is a clear path to remedying it … funding from private donors.'
2.) 'Individuals and the public at large have to be able to identify with the need my organisation seeks to address. My mum has an extremely rare cancer that almost NO ONE else has. We do not focus on what it feels like to have my mum's cancer; instead, we talk about three kids who want their mum alive, who would do anything to keep her here for their weddings, and their graduations.'
3.) 'One of the most important elements in growing our philanthropic efforts has been to give our donors and volunteers ownership over the organisation and its results. It is like giving them equity in a company. The Wendy Walk has an extremely dedicated group of young professionals who are responsible for areas such as outreach, press, social media, event planning and auction donations. My siblings and I started the Wendy Walk, but we are just volunteers with full time jobs and classes to go to. To survive and thrive, the Wendy Walk depends on the dedication and hard work of a much larger group of volunteers and our generous donor base.'
Join Wendy, her family and friends this Sunday, May 6th for the Wendy Walk in Los Angeles.
Click HERE for details and how to register.
'Here I am with this rare disease and unless there's money and awareness, there's no hope that there can be a cure. We can put this disease on the map so that there will be cures. My family and I feel like if we can do anything to make that a reality then there was a purpose to me having this disease … so that's why the Wendy Walk is so vital.' -Wendy Landes
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