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The LLS Man and Woman of the Year competition is held each year in honor of a local boy and girl who have been battling a form of blood cancer. They are a wonderful reminder of the thousands of people around the country who we are raising money for. I want to take some time to introduce you to this year’s Boy and Girl of the Year, Lainey Zuinga and Cooper “The Trooper” Cochran – two wonderful and brave children with fascinating stories.

Lainey Zuniga

Delainey came into this world on July 10, 2007 weighing in at 7 lbs. and 6 oz, with tons of spirit and strength. As it turned out, she would later need that strength as she endured the rigors of fighting a rare blood cancer.

The bad news came on September 29, 2009 when she was admitted to Sutter Memorial Hospital with a fever and blood counts that the doctor called “crazy low.” She was given a preliminary diagnosis of leukemia, and was immediately put on antibiotics and transfused with red blood and platelets to try to bring her counts up. In order to accurately diagnose her condition, doctors performed two bone marrow biopsies. Finally, on October 6th, she was officially diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) with Monosomy 7, a disease which normally occurs in males over the age of 60. The prognosis for Lainey’s disease was only 30 to 60% survival, but her doctor told the family, “Forget these statistics! The only statistic that matters is getting Lainey to 100% recovery!” 

While at Sutter Memorial, the oncology team decided to put Lainey on a regiment of chemotherapy to try to keep the blood cancer from getting worse and possibly turning into Acute Myloid Leukemia (AML). She endured two rounds of chemo and held up pretty well. On December 11, 2009, Lainey received her “Miracle Mommy Marrow,” a bone marrow donation from her mother, Jennifer. 

She was taken off home isolation the following June and allowed to attend preschool starting in January of 2011. Lainey was enrolled in tap and ballet class, and karate too (she now has her orange belt). She loves to dress up and be a princess, but also loves to go outside and dig in the dirt for bugs, snails, and worms. She loves to garden with her Grandma, bake cupcakes with Mom, and create various soups with her Papa. 

Lainey was recently asked what she wanted to be when she grew up and without hesitation she said “a doctor.” Her family is in total agreement that her life was saved so she could grow up make a difference in this world.


Cooper “The Trooper” Cochran

Cooper made an impact on this world the second he was born. Born at 13lbs. 2.8 oz. Cooper was healthy and a very happy calm baby. When Cooper was about 20 months he started to run fevers that were unexplained. No other symptoms. He also started looking a little Jaundice and his stomach a bit swollen. He was eating great, so there wasn’t much concern until his body start bruising just merely from picking him up.

Cooper was diagnosed with High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on August 30th 2010. He and his mom spent three weeks in the hospital getting his three year treatment plan undersay. The next 14 months came with 146 trips to UC Davis, back and forth for labs, chemo treatments, hospitalizations and radiation.  

Since day one of Cooper’s illness he had a fighting spirit about him. He was too young to know he is sick, too young to act sick and most people who meet him have no idea he has cancer. He runs, plays and laughs just like any normal three year old. He loves YO Gabba Gabba and Dora the Explorer and Cars (Disney/Pixar). You will catch him making animal sounds and using his imagination to the fullest and enjoys spending time with his two older siblings. The thing his family loves most about Cooper is that he is so brave and not afraid. He is empathetic and affectionate, when he is the one that deserves all that love.

We are happy to say at this time Cooper is in clinical remission. He is now on maintenance which requires chemo and steroids to be dispensed orally at home daily and this will continue for the next couple of years. His outlook is good but his family continues to live life one day at a time.


Yesterday, Friday, was an interesting day. I spoke with a business colleague who had heard about the LLS Man of the Year campaign. He had also heard about the 24 hour run I am doing on May 4-5. He asked, “are you really going to do it?” After I said yes, he asked if I had talked to my doctor about it and warned me that I could lose toenails. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that after training for and running 10 marathons in the last four years, I only have a few left!  I certainly didn’t share with him that I have a bumper sticker that reads, “Toenails Are For Sissies.”  By the end of the conversation, he was convinced that I wasn’t totally out of my mind and that the event was a great way to raise money for LLS. He told me I could count on his financial support.

Later that evening, I found myself in an awkward situation. This isn’t the first time in the last few weeks that I have felt this way.  Inevitably, we ask each other, “whatcha doing this weekend?” My answers over the last few weeks have been similar to those leading into weekends over the past several years, but with one major exception. That exception, my weekend long runs. So my answers nowadays are, “birthday party, work around the house……40 mile run….church, catch up on work.”   The 40 mile comment tends to draw a confused and awkward, “why???”

The answer is actually quite simple.  A little over four years ago, I began to run.  (If you ever have time, I would love to share that story with you) I have shared with many that, from day one, I knew there was a reason why I was running. As I trained hard, my race times frankly dropped dramatically. I began placing in local races, even winning my age division in a half marathon. Another personal benefit, my weight had gone from 205 to 165. All the numbers that measure our physical health had gone from average to better than they were in my teens and 20s. My doctor said “keep up doing what you’re doing.”  Without question, running has changed my life.

It would be easy enough to stop there and say that these are the reasons why I run. While, all the above would potentially be reason enough, they aren’t the reason. The reason – make an impact on the world around me. A huge, positive, massive impact.  As I watch the world around me, I can no longer sit and watch others suffer if I can do something about it. Running, in so many ways, has been an amazing vehicle to do just that. Help change the lives of others. I ran 40 miles today so that I am prepared to run for 24 hours on May 4-5.  By the time that date gets here, I will have run a least three 50 milers. Crazy? That’s what many told me in the fall of 2007 when this journey began. Maybe I was and still am, but it is how I am going to stay. Running has changed my life forever, but the real reason I run and will continue to run is to change the lives of others. On May 4-5, that is exactly what I am going to do. The only question now is; “Will You Join Me?”

I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Lainey, the LLS Girl of the Year, and her grandmother, Jolaine, last week when we got together to shoot a video about The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Man of the Year competition. Lainey is such a bright, happy girl and full of smiles. You would never know the struggle she’s been through with her diagnosis and treatment.  

Click here to view the touching video that was put together and hear Lainey’s grandmother share her story of survival and how LLS helped her and her family during her diagnosis and treatment. It’s a story that I hope you will find truly inspiring.

Kris was nominated for LLS Sacramento Man of the Year by Clay Sigg, manager of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Sacramento Fair Oaks office. Clay is now Kris’ campaign manager and a key factor in the organization of his Man of the Year fundraiser. To learn a little more about Kris and the campaign, we sat down with Clay to ask a few questions.

Q: How did you learn about the LLS Man of the Year competition?

Clay:  My UC Davis Baseball Coach, Phil Swimley, has a granddaughter Sammy who is fighting a rare form of blood cancer. Through recent research breakthroughs, her cancer has been put into remission. Sammy’s Mom, Mary Swimley, has brought this fundraising drive to my attention a number of times. My mother is a breast cancer survivor, so I have an awareness of the devastation that dealing with cancer has not only in my own life, but in the lives of most everyone that I know in one form or another. 

Q: You nominated Kris for Man of the Year. What made you think he would make a good candidate?

Clay:  I immediately thought of Kris as someone who would have a heart for this, take it as a challenge and really run with it. Wow has he embraced it! He has such a great focus that  he can do something for a cause that could have significance for any family in our Sacramento community locally.

Q: As his campaign manager, tell us about Kris’ fundraising goal and how he plans on meeting it.

Clay:  We’re taking dead aim at raising at least $50,000, our professed goal. However, we think we have the possibility of raising much more than that. Our planning group already has six separate events that people have agreed to put on. We think they will not only be fun, but will raise healthy amounts of money for the Sacramento Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

Q: Obviously this is more than a competition for Man of the Year. How does this fundraiser help the LLS Sacramento chapter?

Clay:  I don’t think Kris is getting caught up too much in the “Man of the Year” aspects of this campaign. My read is that he wants to leverage his position with Coldwell Banker and influence within the community to raise money to fund blood cancer research and patient support programs. The bigger mission of the LLS is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, but before that, to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Sometimes we don’t think about what happens to the family of a cancer patient financially. It can be just devastating while the family is helping their loved one get through the ordeal.

Q: At the end of the competition, do you think Kris will be named Man of the Year?

Clay:  Actually, I would be surprised if he isn’t. Kris is fully engaged in this effort and is relentless when he puts his mind to it. He’s already committed to running for 24 hours straight on May 4th and 5th (about 100 miles!) to highlight the importance of this cause and to raise money for LLS. People are saying, “Is he crazy?” but they are saying it out of respect for his positive commitment to doing something big for the effort.

Q: If someone would like to get involved in supporting Kris’ campaign, what suggestions do you have?

Clay:  What we are finding is that each person who wants to get involved has just made contact and stepped up to do one event…  or they’ve thought of one idea that would raise money. We’re just getting started so there is plenty of time to plan and then pull off an event that would benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. We’re actively attempting to procure silent and live auction items that can generate extra money for our events. I’d love to help anyone plan to make their idea for a fundraising event as successful possible. My cell phone is (916) 768-0974.

Q: Kris has a very philanthropic background and is known for his work with a range of caring causes.  Can you tell us a bit more about his background?  

Clay:  Kris has done a wide range of things in his life that show what kind of a man he is. He has been very involved in a number of projects through his church, and has won the NRT Coldwell Banker Spirit award. Just in the short time I’ve been working with him, we have been involved with a number of charities and non-profits. We have participated in the WEAVE (Women Escaping Violent Environments) event “Run a Mile in her Shoes”; “Habitat for Humanity” events where we’ve built homes for people; the “Walk N’ Rock” in behalf of the Positive Coaching Alliance which is transforming youth sports; and the “Run to Feed the Hungry” celebration on Thanksgiving mornings. And that is just in the last eighteen months.

I’d like to kick this blog off with a few words about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year competition and why I chose to accept the nomination.

When the idea was first brought to my attention, I was interested almost immediately. I’ve long been a supporter of various local charitable organizations and feel that, as a longtime member of the Sacramento community, it’s important to give back. 

Working in real estate for more than 20 years, I’ve developed close relationships with many Sacramentans and have come to know their stories. That is how I’ve learned just how many lives have been touched by leukemia, lymphoma and other blood-related cancers. Whether family, friend or co-worker, many in our community have been greatly affected by these devastating diseases.

That’s what I appreciate most about the Man of the Year competition. Every dollar my fellow candidates and I raise will go directly to the Sacramento chapter of LLS and help those who have been affected blood cancers. Every dollar that is donated on my behalf equals one vote. That’s one vote for me to be named the LLS Sacramento Chapter Man of the Year. But more importantly, that is one more dollar that goes toward blood cancer research and to one day finding a cure.

This year’s slogan for the Man of the Year competition is “Be Relentless” – two words that truly resonate with me. Whether it’s in business, on the road training for my next marathon, or doing what I can to help others, that’s what I am…relentless. Relentless to succeed.

Over the next several weeks, my support team and I will be doing our best to raise as much money as possible for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. We’ll be using this blog to share our stories, information about upcoming fundraising events, how you can help, and much more.

I thank you in advance and I know that with your support, we can make a difference in the fight for a cure. We just need to be…relentless.

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Man of the Year Fundraiser Ends:May 12th, 2012