Students team up with cancer society to fight alongside loved ones


Amy Hodge

Longtime friends Henry Hodge and Rustin Makhmalbaf enjoying golfing together in 2016.

Tolu Adewumi and Danielle DuBois

“You have cancer” are three words nobody ever wants to hear. But the current reality is, many people will come across those dreaded words in their lifetime.

Through seeing loved ones suffer from cancer, juniors Henry Hodge and Bella Veal are fighting to end it once and for all. 

Both students participated in a fundraiser through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). The fundraiser campaign ran from January 1 to February 20. 

Each team of teenagers is called a chapter consisting of roughly ten students and each has a name. They concluded the campaign with a gathering of many chapters to hear about the generous donations they received.  

This program nominates students of the year to lead a team of ten teenagers into a campaign to raise awareness and funds for Leukemia and Lymphoma research. 

Veal led her own team alongside Ellie Miltz—a friend at Lambert High School—while Hodge was a part of a team led by his childhood friend Rustin Makmalbaf. 

Hodge started raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after his childhood best friend, Makhmalbaf, was diagnosed with nodular predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the summer of 2014. 

“My motivation for [raising the money] is my childhood best friend Rustin,” Hodge said. 

Makhmalbaf and Hodge met at Woodward Academy when they were young. 

“We lived in the same neighborhood and did a bunch of after school activities together like golfing,” Hodge said. 

The boys loved being outdoors together and both continue to show their athleticism as runners for their schools’ cross country and track teams. 

“I’ve always been a healthy kid so when my mom first saw a bump on my neck she didn’t think much of it,” Makhmalbaf said. “But when the bump lasted from summer to winter we went to speak with my doctor.” 

As only a fifth grader at the time of diagnosis, Makhmalbaf’s life was turned upside down. His normal school schedule was replaced with chemotherapy appointments. 

Henry alongside Rustin in the midst  of cancer treatment

“The support of my family and friends like Henry truly helped me get through it all and maintain a positive attitude until the cancer was gone,” Makhmalbaf said.

After some time passed, it was discovered that there was still lymphoma in Makhmalbaf’s body. Unfortunately this second time was much worse. 

“The first time around we were still able to play golf together and when I visited him, spirits were high,” Hodge said. “But when the cancer returned it was different and I knew I had to be there for him even more.”

Now Makhmalbaf uses his story of how he preserved through cancer twice to inspire others. He was one of few who kept a positive outlook throughout the process which led to him being recommended for student of the year through the LLS campaign. 

“Some people may see my cancer as a setback but I see it as a success story,” Makhmalbaf said. 

The campaign that these friends were a part took meticulous planning and dedication. 

“I started trying to gather my team in the fall and I planned and prepared as much as I could so I could succeed in the new year,” Makhmalbaf said. 

“When I saw my best friend put so much effort into this I immediately wanted to see how I could help,” Hodge said. 

They had zoom meetings with former student leaders and leukemia and lymphoma survivors. 

“Rustin is the only person I know who has suffered from cancer and we both agreed that we want to be part of the generation that ends cancer,” Hodge added. 

This goal is not only shared with Hodge and Makhmalbaf but also other students in different chapters. 

Within the area of Atlanta and metro Atlanta hundreds of students raised money to help in the fight against cancer. 

Veal led her own team to meet their fundraising goals through social media and personal connections. 

Veal advertising for her campaign

Hodge and Makhmalbaf are like brothers, but Veal’s connection to LLS  is direct bloodline.

“My grandfather was my inspiration because he has Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma,” Veal said. 

As Veal built her team she kept her grandpa in mind the entire time. When it came time to name her fundraising team she thought it was a good idea to name her team with some hopeful inspiration. 

“We named our team ‘Footsteps of Faith,’” Veal said. “We thought it was a good name because cancer patients need to have hope when battling cancer in order for them to persevere.”

Veal has worked on this campaign since this past summer. Finding corporate sponsorships during COVID-19 was hard, but Veal pushed through. 

“We focused on personal asks in our letters and would get together every week to write genuine messages to people we knew,” Veal said. 

At the end of the seven week program, the 32 teams combined raised $1.8 million for LLS.

“I loved seeing everything come together at the end,” Veal said. “Through making connections and mentoring others, it was nice to see hard work pay off but the journey doesn’t stop there.” 

These months have been challenging for Veal as she tried to put all the pieces together but she still appreciates the experience. 

“Regardless of how much you donate, this campaign will raise money for education and research in support of families struggling with leukemia and lymphoma.”

Anyone can donate to continue raising money and awareness for LLS. If you feel led to give, you may do so at: