Updated: April 17, 2015 at 3:16 p.m.
When freshman Zoe Alves went through sorority recruitment last year, sophomore Anjani Shah said they had an instant connection.
Shah, a member of Alpha Phi, spoke to Alves multiple times during the week and eventually became her big when Alves joined the sorority.
“I knew as soon as I met her there was something really special about her,” Shah said. “She’s such a resilient spirit.”
In February, Alves was diagnosed with stage-four Hodgkin’s lymphoma and moved back home to Waterbury, Vt. for the rest of the semester. But at GW, her sorority sisters have rallied around Alves, dedicating their spring philanthropy event to her and receiving support from both social and multicultural Greek chapters.
On Saturday, Alpha Phi hosted “Fight Against Cancer” and raised more than $3,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Alves’ honor. Shah, the chapter’s director of philanthropy, helped organize the event with Shelby Sabat, the vice president of marketing.
“She is our friend and someone we could confide in, and talk to on a personal level rather than having someone we’re taking care of all the time,” Shah said, adding that the sorority is also making a blanket with encouraging messages to send to Alves.
Alves said her sorority sisters have stayed in touch while she’s been in treatment, sending videos during the sorority’s dinner hours every two weeks, when Alves has chemotherapy.
Alves, who is majoring in economics and wants to double-major in international affairs, said in an email that she’s “thankful to be part of such a loving and caring community.”
“These girls would do anything for me. I know they have my back,” she said. “So although I didn’t expect a whole philanthropy event, I wasn’t that surprised hearing what they had planned.”
Students donated $5 to attend the “Fight Against Cancer” event in Square 80 on Saturday, and some gave an extra $3 to wrestle other students in inflatable sumo wrestler suits.
Hundreds of students in Greek life attended, with some donating money to buy navy blue T-shirts with the words “Team Zoe” on them and others taking pictures to send to Alves. “Team Zoe” has also spread across campus, as the doors of Greek townhouses have been brightly decorated with the phrase in the freshman’s honor.
Alves said she keeps in touch with her friends at GW and in Alpha Phi through text messaging, Facebook and Snapchat, and she has had some friends fly from D.C. to Vermont to visit her.
“I don’t think our mailbox has ever been so full with cards and gifts,” she said.
This isn’t the first time a GW chapter has dedicated its philanthropy to fighting cancer. Last semester, GW’s chapter of Delta Tau Delta raised $24,000 to cover the costs of medical bills for a fraternity member’s father who was diagnosed with stage-four stomach cancer.
Gabriela Passos, a freshman, met Alves while they were both going through recruitment and said she frequently texts Alves to check in. She described Alves as “kindhearted,” and added that “she’s touched all of our lives in one way or another.”
“Through our philanthropy, we can give her some moral support and half of what she’s given us,” Passos said.
Mollie Bowman, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said the event was an important way to spread awareness of cancer research.
“I’ve been really proud of this community for coming together in solidarity to help a sister of another chapter,” she said.