BB&T’s Dan Waetjen’s 2014 Leukemia Ball Outlook: ‘Go Big or Go Home’

Dan Waetjen, Group President, BB&T

Dan Waetjen, Group President, BB&T

U.S. doctors will this year diagnose approximately 149,900 people with a blood cancer such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. That’s a blood cancer diagnosis every four minutes. What’s more — someone dies every ten minutes from a blood cancer, according to research and statistics provided by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

The good news is that organizations like LLS — a 61 chapter voluntary health organization that sponsors blood cancer research, education and patient services – have instrumentally contributed to a rise in survival rates for cancers like Hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia. Last year alone, LLS funded nearly $74 million of research, and supported numerous patient programs. This type of critical investment in research would not be possible without the resources provided through fundraising events.

The 2014 Leukemia Ball is one such event that has led to successes in blood cancer– like the fact that Hodgkins lymphoma is today one of the more curable forms of blood cancer.

BB&T Group President Dan Waetjen is this year’s Leukemia Ball co-chair alongside KPMG’s Candace Duncan.   This is Waetjen’s first year serving on the Ball committee.

“You may as well jump in the deep end,” Waetjen told WashingtonExec in a recent interview about taking on a leadership role with LLS after having had virtually no previous exposure to the event. “Go big or go home,” Waetjen said.

He said he’s always thought the Leukemia Ball was a worthy cause, but it wasn’t until a 2012 December evening when he took the leap to assume a leadership role as Chairman of the 2014 Ball.

“After being asked to co-chair the 2014 Leukemia Ball, I went homAnd quite frankly,  was thinking of how I was going to get out of it – due to competing priorities for time.. As worthy as the cause was, I didn’t know if I had the capacity to take this on,” Waetjen said. “My middle daughter asked if I remembered that her husband was a childhood survivor of leukemia. I had forgotten that.”

An hour later, he received a call from one of his market presidents — one of their commercial bankers had just been diagnosed with lymphoma.

“Monday morning I called LLS and said that I was in,” Waetjen said of the turning point. “It was just too compelling to not take it on at that point.”

But Waetjen realizes serving as Chairman of an annual event with a goal of raising $3 million,this year comes with its challenges.

He said he sees his role as one requiring constant enthusiasm and a positive attitude, or as he described it, “living your life with purpose and passion.”

“It is getting the volunteers energized, fired up and focused on the big picture,where the common denominator for everyone is the mission, is the fundraising that we need to do,” Waetjen said. “It is fun and exciting to see it run that way and see them enjoy that enthusiasm.”

With a little under a month left until the black-tie event, Waetjen and his troupe still have some fundraising work to do. The group wants to surpass the $2.75 million they raised last year but Waetjen said incidents like the temporary government shutdown and colder weather have impeded their efforts. That’s not to say Waetjen has lost hope.

“We got derailed a little bit…but not unlike every other event of this type that I’ve been involved with. It all always sort of comes together in the last 4 weeks or so,” he said. “It is crunch time. We have a phone meeting in the morning to discuss rallying the troops and closing that gap so we can reach that $3 million number. We are optimistic that we are going to get that done.”

Contributions for the event are typically led by corporate groups and accounting firms, however individual tickets are also available. “We are having to cast that net a little bit wider and work a little bit harder to try to get that fundraising done but it’s coming along,” Waetjen said.

Luckily for Waetjen, the 2014 Leukemia Ball’s theme is one that makes it all worth it for him. The tagline – ‘Imagine that Someday is Today’ – encourages LLS supporters to appreciate the value of their contributions.

“If you just think about that – we all talk about ‘someday I’m going to be rich’, ‘someday I’m going to be thin’, and ‘someday we’ll walk on the moon’. It is always someday. Imagine that the “someday” for finding cures for blood cancers is today. It is very powerful and very moving to me,” Waetjen said. “This year I’m a grizzled veteran having been there once. I’m looking forward to just enjoying the evening. I’ll tell you that the part that absolutely gives me chills is our theme for this year.”

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