Park City teacher named Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Utah Woman of the Year
May 27, 2015
Michelle Smietana couldn’t believe it. She stood on the stage on the floor of Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City and struggled to compose her thoughts before delivering a speech to the cheering crowd.
Smietana, a cancer survivor and a fifth-grade teacher at Weilenmann School of Discovery, had just been named the Utah Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society during a ceremony May 16. She had beaten four other nominees by raising the most money for cancer research, patient advocacy and public education.
"I was emotional and I was surprised," said Smietana, who raised about $44,500 in the contest. "And I hadn’t thought of what I wanted to say because I didn’t want to jinx myself. I was up there, cold-turkey, trying to formulate some words that made sense. I think everybody could tell that it meant a lot to me. It’s an honor.
"I still can’t believe it. I look back on it and it seems surreal."
The competition began in March. Smietana, who was diagnosed with lymphoma a decade ago and has been active in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for about four years, did whatever she could to raise money. Her students even got in on the action.
Her fifth-grade class held a bake sale and a book drive, raising about $1,700, Smietana said.
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"They have been involved from Day 1," she said. "From the get-go, they have wanted to help me. They came up with a list of fundraising activities they wanted to try."
And their reaction last week when they found out she had won?
"They were so excited (last) Monday when they walked in," Smietana said. "They looked at me with such anticipation, like, ‘Well?’ It was so exciting to tell them that we won. We won together. They worked hard for me."
Smietana’s money will go in a general fund for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If she had raised $50,000, she could have chosen into which sector of cancer research her money would go — she chose pediatrics early on in the competition — but said she is just happy to know her hard work will make a difference in people’s lives.
"The money is all going toward something valuable," she said. "So knowing that my money is in a general fund also feels good. Some of the sectors that don’t always get a lot of money, maybe some of the money I earned will go to that. You never know the potential of what you’re doing."
Though she was named Woman of the Year, Smietana wasn’t the only one to raise a lot of money. Together, she and the nine other candidates — four women competing against her and five Man of the Year nominees — raised about $336,000, the most ever for the competition.
"To hear that number, you know that you’re making a positive difference in the world of researching what will cure or fight cancer," she said. "It just blows me away."
Smietana’s contributions did not end with the competition. As Woman of the Year, she will speak at various Leukemia and Lymphoma Society events and serve as a public advocate for cancer research. As someone who knows first-hand how important the fight against cancer is, it is a role she embraces.
"I’m going to have a chance to represent the society in a much larger way," she said. "It’s going to be a continuing, meaningful experience."
There is one other perk that comes with being Woman of the Year — though it’s one Smietana in all honesty might rather pass up. She has been told her picture will be on a Salt Lake bus.
"My kids were very excited about that," she said. "When I first started the campaign, I didn’t think that seemed like anything I would want. It’s certainly something I had to get used to, but it’s something different. As long as it’s a good picture, I guess I’m OK with it."
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