MADISON (WKOW) – Three years ago, Russ and Sheila Wolff lost their daughter Aly, to cancer.
In her 20 years of life, she accomplished remarkable things. But even in death, she's impacting countless lives, through the work her parents have continued.
“She loved being around her family and she loved being around her friends,” says Sheila. She was able to connect with so many people.”
Her smile graced us for a short while.
“We miss her.”
Aly Wolff was the face of the #BiebsMeetAly campaign, the face of the fight against neuroendocrine cancer.
“I was in awe sometimes of how strong she was,” says Sheila. “As a 19 year old girl, to get that diagnosis, you'd think you'd be doing the 'Why me?' And she never said, 'Why me?' She just said, 'It's been my life for a reason.”
Aly lived her life with purpose, sharing her story on 27 News.
And even in her last days, Aly set a goal to start a charity to raise money for cancer research.
“When we were first planning this in the hospital room when she was sick, we were thinking in terms of maybe we could raise $10,000 or $15,000,” says Russ.
Her dream became a reality, when Russ and Sheila created the Aly Wolff Foundation after she passed.
“We got emails and messages and people coming to the race from all over and strangers that saw her on TV and connected with her,” says Sheila. “We get strength from the outpouring and it makes you get up in the morning and keep going. You could easily curl into a hole and have your own pity party, but I could hear Aly in my head shouting, 'Don't you dare. Get up and get going.”
Through that support, hundreds of thousands of dollars has been raised.
“This past year we eclipsed the $500,000 mark, so we have donated all of that to research here,” says Russ. “You know, it was important for her, because she wanted to impact people that were local.”
That money, has made groundbreaking research possible at the UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison.
“We are one of a few labs in the world that have ever been able to grow neuroendocrine tumors,” says Dr. Dusty Deming. “With the fact that we can grow these neuroendocrine tumors, we can start developing treatment strategies for them. Years ago, this type of work couldn't even happen. It's through the Aly Wolff Foundation and getting pilot funding to be able to do this kind of work that this is at all possible.”
Sheila says, “We have started a clinical trial on humans. There's gonna be more tools in the toolbox. Aly, there was nothing out there for her. Now, there's gonna be, for other people, tools in the toolbox that we can actually try some other treatments. Our ultimate goal is to get the cure.”
It's a goal that's within reach, as Russ and Sheila carry on Aly's dream.
“We can do such great things when we hold each other up and press on.”
Russ and Sheila hope to next hit the million dollar mark through their fundraising. That money will help to develop a new line of treatment for those battling neuroendocrine tumors.
The foundation also provides real hair wigs to cancer patients.