1 of 2
Photos by Alyx Chandler.
Naomi Pitts received the Volunteer of the Year award on Feb. 9 at the LLS Blood Drop Banquet.
2 of 2
Photos by Alyx Chandler.
Pitts receives a hug after being honored with a Volunteer of the Year award and followed with a speech about her experience with cancer.
When Naomi Pitts speaks to large crowds, she speaks with courage.
Pitts, a Spain Park High School senior, is also a survivor of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a blood cancer. Even though she has been in remission for a few years now, that hasn’t stopped her from telling her story to inspire others.
“She was always a very shy and quiet-spoken young lady, but she started doing public speaking at events to raise awareness for childhood cancer, and she got this holy boldness about her,” said Naomi Pitts’ mother, Christine Pitts. “The first two or three speakers, you could barely hear her. But by the fourth, fifth time, it was like, who is that? That girl has a lot of confidence. She just speaks from the top of her head now, experience from the heart.”
On Feb. 9, Naomi Pitts received the Volunteer of the Year award at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Blood Drop Banquet. LLS is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to fighting blood cancer.
Naomi Pitts volunteers as part of the LLS Student Series, a donation drive designed to teach children how to set and reach goals, as well as value community involvement. Students spend a few weeks during the 2016-17 school year on programs they design to raise money to end blood cancers.
“One day, she just came right in after volleyball,” said Maggie Rountree, campaign manager of LLS’ Alabama and Gulf Coast Chapter. “Truth be told, high school students can find a whole lot more interesting things to do than sort data on a computer, but she wanted to help. It matters to her.”
Naomi Pitts served as an Honorary Ambassador for LLS and the Spain Park fundraiser, the “Hometown Showdown,” a basketball game and fundraising event between Spain Park and Hoover High. Last year, she supported LLS’ Man and Woman of the Year campaign and was named Teen of the Year.
“It’s therapeutic and empowering for her to share her story because there’s so much hope and inspiration in it,” Rountree said. “I know [sharing] is not for every student, but for Naomi, she lives knowing it inspires and helps others that are currently going through treatments.”
Naomi Pitts was first diagnosed with blood cancer when she started middle school. She went through a year and a couple of months of chemotherapy at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Christine Pitts said the initial diagnosis was hard with the physical repercussions of the chemotherapy, especially as a young woman, not even a teenager yet.
Being isolated from people because of germs was also extremely difficult, especially being so young and losing the closeness with her group of friends she was just beginning to make, Christine Pitts said.
“With kids that young, it’s out of sight, out of mind,” she said.
Naomi Pitts said she also lost a lot of weight and was unable to play in any of the volleyball games, even though she just made the team.
When she went into remission, it was like “trying to fit in all over again,” Christine Pitts said.
But Naomi Pitts said it hasn’t been an entirely negative experience. Because of the cancer, she has had the opportunity to make a difference and meet people dedicated to making a difference.
“I’m a lot more grateful since the cancer,” Naomi Pitts said. “It made me realize how small the world is.”
Naomi Pitts first got involved with LLS in 2014. Since then, she has been known to write notes of encouragement to the recruitment team, help sort through a lot of data and sign and write letters detailing her story and asking for donation money from friends and family all over the U.S.
“I tell people if I can be half the woman Naomi is as a high school senior, I’ll be quite proud,” Rountree said. “She is incredible. She has really served in a number of capacities to support our chapter.”
The most important thing to Naomi Pitts is being able to have an influence on her peers.
“Thanks to research, nearly 90 percent of children with acute leukemia are now cured,” Rountree said. “But there still is a long way to go. Leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, so LLS’ Student Series donation drive provides a meaningful way for kids to help kids. Every dollar really does make a difference.”
Even though she’s leaving to go to Auburn University next year to study biochemical engineering, Naomi Pitts said she wants to continue volunteering for LLS in the years to come.
For more information about the program, go to studentseries.org.