UB Student Takes Honors in Cyberspace Fundraising Challenge

Release Date: February 28, 2008

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UB social work student Mary Sorens has been honored for her work to raise money for research on a cancer from which she is recovering.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A grassroots cyberspace campaign by a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work to raise money for research on a cancer from which she is recovering has earned her top-10 honors in a national online charity fund-raising competition and raised more than $30,000 for a charity dedicated to raising awareness and research funds related to the cancer.

Mary Sorens gathered 622 donors -- most willing to donate about $10 -- to support the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative, a non-profit group dedicated to increasing awareness and research funds for sarcoma, a cancer affecting connective tissue such as bones, muscles and joints.

Using contacts she cultivated in an online sarcoma support group she began in 2005, Sorens raised more than $17,000 for the charity. She also earned $13,000 in prize money from Causes Giving Challenge on Facebook, the organization sponsoring the charity competition, including three $1,000 awards for attracting the most donors in a 24-hour period. She is donating the money to the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative to support competitive research grants.

"It was exhilarating, frustrating, encouraging and exhausting all at once," says Sorens, a resident of the Town of Tonawanda who has been an active volunteer counseling other sarcoma patients online.

"I feel like it has opened doors for my personal direction in life. It made me realize I actually enjoy advocacy," she says. "Before I knew I enjoyed patient support. But this Causes Giving Challenge was exciting. It stretched me and made me think. It made me realize fund-raising can actually be fun."

The 622 contributions Sorens and her friends assembled earned her eighth-place honors among 747 charities competing in the national contest. Launched Dec. 13 and ending Jan. 31, the contest tried to take advantage of emerging social patterns using the latest technology, showing those participating how they could attract more donors and increase awareness of their causes using cutting-edge social networking sites.

Sorens entered the contest late, on Jan. 1, but won three of the $1,000 daily prizes for finding the most pledges of any group in the contest in a 24-hour period.

"First we went to friends and family," she says. "But we exhausted that pretty quickly. Then I went to my online support group Adult Bone Cancer Survivors and then to other online communities, all sarcoma-related. Toward the end we went to anyone we could think of who had cancer or had some awareness of it."

Sorens said competing for the $1,000 daily prizes was especially invigorating.

"We'd be staying up all night, watching the numbers on the site until the last minute," she says. "That was crazy."

Sarcoma is a rare form of cancer, making up about 1 percent of all cases of adult cancers. Sorens was diagnosed four years ago with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. She had surgery in 2003, during which doctors removed a significant portion of her right arm, replacing it with titanium and bone from a donor. Her cancer is considered a low-grade form and has not been present since her surgery, she says. Research shows she faces a 10 percent chance of having her cancer recur, an unusually low percentage for sarcomas, according to Sorens.

"The prognosis is pretty good for low-grade forms of this disease," says Sorens. "But low-grade forms are very rare. Most of the people I have met through my support group have had very aggressive forms of osteosarcomas and other sarcomas.

"Everyone wants to know what the odds are it will come back. What no one thinks about is how much pain you are in and how much disability you have. Treatments of sarcomas are aggressive and surgeries are aggressive. Patients are left with pain and lifelong effects after treatment. Most have aggressive surgeries that change their limbs."

Sorens has been involved with hundreds of sarcoma patients, largely through her online support group, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s. She plans on becoming an oncology social worker after she receives her master's degree from UB's School of Social Work. And the more she talks with other patients, the more she realizes the need for research.

"Because I've been involved with so many patients who are sick and dying, I realize you can only do so much with words," Sorens says. "If you don't have money to fund research, people keep dying. That's pretty much it."

Sorens says she will continue her work with Team Sarcoma, an ongoing effort organized through the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative, designing T-shirts and getting involved in other online Team Sarcoma projects. She plans a trip to Europe this summer with the Liddy Shriver group to increase awareness and raise money for research. The initiative has another UB connection, Sorens says. Bruce Shriver, one of the founders, earned his doctorate in computer science from UB.

Donations to sarcoma research can be made by logging onto http://www.sarcomahelp.org.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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