St. Paul Park's Melissa Abdouch and 'Team Jessica' mark 20 years of fundraising for leukemia, lymphoma fight
Everyone's invited to a wedding Saturday night at Mississippi Dunes Golf Club. And don't forget to bring a present.
The event, "A Shotgun Wedding," is not real but the reason to host is a serious one. Team Jessica is raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, something the team has been doing for 20 years.
Melissa Abdouch (Melissa Meissner when she graduated from Park High School), leads the fundraising team and will play the part of the wedding planner for the event.
No one who knows her will be surprised to find Abdouch in an organizing role. Through the years, she's lead Team Jessica to host huge garage sales, runs, walks, acting and even jumping in a pool of Jell-O, all to benefit her niece, Jessica Stenvick, who died of leukemia in 1992.
Abdouch continues the effort because she still can't imagine the depth of the loss for her family and remembers the way Jessica suffered from the disease that took her life.
Abdouch is a cancer survivor herself, having lived through neuroblastoma when she was just 2 years old. She was also diagnosed in the final stages of the disease but her parents would not give up on their daughter, Abdouch said.
Melissa's daughter, Alex, has autism and people have asked Abdouch, an Air Force veteran who works as an accountant, why she continues to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma when she could also support autism.
"My time is best focused on supporting one cause," she said in a recent interview at her St. Paul Park home.
"If other people are having fundraiser for any worthy cause, I'm at the head of the line," she said.
Giving time and money to fundraising was a family value as Abdouch grew up. She has raised over $100,000.
"This is what you do," she said. "You support others and just keep giving back."
When she shuts her eyes, Abdouch sees the "adorable faces of forgiving spirits" of children with leukemia and lymphoma. "Not one of them felt sorry or defeated," she said. "Their smiles could light up the cathedral."
In addition to "The Shotgun Wedding," there are three other events this spring and summer.
A Bike and Classic Car Run will be held May 12, and a charity golf tournament will be held May 19.
Abdouch is also participating on the leadership committee for LLS's Man and Woman of the Year in Minneapolis.
Abdouch and a friend are also writing a cookbook with stories about 11 children with cancer and their favorite foods.
"Food is your favorite blanket," she said. "It helps get you through."