by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
In a matter of minutes one day, August 24, 2009 while her daughter Jori Lauren Leflore was seeing a dermatologist, Ptosha Davis’ life changed forever, setting her on her present course of advocacy.
Blood work on Jori to treat an Eczema condition called Potikieye revealed a white blood cell count that according to Davis was “way off the charts.”
Jori’s doctor suspected Leukemia. On August 25 after further tests confirmed she had the disease, Jori was checked into Children’s Hospital.
On February 10, 2010, after six months at Children’s enduring Chemotherapy, 40 blood transfusions, multiple medications—some experimental; after numerous bone marrow drives to find a match for Jori, published articles telling her story (a number of them in the Community Journal’s former I-Witness column), and many prayers, Jori lost her battle with Leukemia.
“My daughter’s Leukemia was in remission when she passed,” Davis said, noting Jori died of complications resulting from her Chemotherapy. The treatment had affected her organs.
Davis hopes research will find a cure that treats the cancer without killing the patient.
Though she and her family (which consists of Jori’s dad, Darien Leflore, Sr., and brothers Justin and Darien, Jr.) mourn the loss of their daughter and sister everyday, Davis has not allowed herself to be consumed by her grief.
The former magazine publishing executive has taken her daughter’s story of courage and love public in order to educate others and give comfort and support to families traversing the same painful path Davis and her family navigated.
Davis is now engaged in a campaign to become Wisconsin’s Woman of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer research and improving the quality of life of patients and their families.
The LLS Man and Woman of the Year is a nation-wide competition in which passionate candidates like Davis raise funds for blood cancer research. The competition runs from February to June.
Candidates in the competition compete in their respective state to honor of children who are local blood cancer survivors, the LLS Boy and Girl of the Year.
Every dollar raised counts as one vote, and the titles are awarded to the man and woman with the most votes at the end of 10 weeks. The top local fundraisers in the country win the national titles.
The funds raised by Man and Woman of the Year participants are used for blood cancer research, to help cover patient expenses for transportation, medication and testing, as well as for education and local programs.
According to Davis, the Wisconsin chapter has been involved in the competition for the last three years. The executive director of the Wisconsin LLS nominated Davis for Woman of the Year based on her work in the community raising awareness about the disease.
On March 12, as one of her first activities for the competition, Davis held a fundraiser at Gene’s Lanes and Lounge. All the proceeds went to Davis’ campaign. She thanked Gene’s for underwriting the event.
Davis said the community has been “overwhelmingly receptive” to her message and efforts to educate people about Leukemia, especially after they hear about her daughter’s journey and its impact on the family.
“I received emails and letters from people who had loved ones who had Leukemia or died from it,” Davis said, adding the community is hesitant to support charitable health organizations or engage in philanthropy.
But Davis said when a face is connected to the cause or campaign, people can relate to it and are more receptive to the message being shared.
“They can relate to it better when you put a face to the cause, Davis said. When people see me and hear my daughter’s story it becomes personal to them.”
Davis said “when” (not if) she wins the state competition she will take her platform of raising minority awareness about Leukemia and Lymphoma to the national level.
“Ours is not the face normally associated with cancer or childhood cancer,” Davis said in a recent interview, adding winning the national title allows her to name a research grant after her daughter.
Davis began her involvement with LLS during Jori’s illness when George Hinton, president of Sinai Hospital, connected her to the Wisconsin LLS and its board of directors. They asked if she would be interested in becoming a member of its board.
“After Jori passed, I contacted them and told them I would be honored to be on their board helping with outreach awareness in the minority community as it relates to Leukemia and other blood cancers,” said Davis, who became the first minority board member in the chapter’s 60-year history.
Davis, who has started a foundation in honor of her daughter called “Jori’s Journey,” said she wants her advocacy and outreach on behalf of the community and families touched by Leukemia to be part of Jori’s legacy.
“Not all families have access to information about Leukemia. I want to provide information for other families; make their journey easier.”
Davis praised Children’s Hospital (one of the leading hospital’s in the country for childhood cancer) for their efforts on behalf of Jori.
She also realized that her daughter’s quality of care and access to experimental medications she tried would not have been possible without her former husband Darien’s support, both emotional and financial via his health insurance, which covered all of Jori’s costs.
“Everybody should have access to affordable healthcare and health insurance,” Davis stated.
For more information or to make a donation, visit wi.mway.llsevent.org/ptoshadavisleflore.