‘Team Zeena’ Project

Friends of cancer-survivor Zeena Alzanoon raise money in her honor for Leukemia Lymphoma Society


Heba Bounar

‘Team Zeena’ forms initiative to raise $25000 in honor of friend Zeena Alzanoon.

Stories about victims of the life-threatening disease of cancer has become all too common throughout the world.  In fact, it’s almost become too common to the extent that feeling the direct emotions that should be a logical response to such tragic stories is sometimes a helpless case.

However, when the victim is a family member, friend, acquaintance, or even fellow student, the impact has a far more touching, emotional element.

This effect is a characteristic of the story of Zeena Alzanoon, a sophomore student at Granite Bay High School who survived cancer.

On August 3rd, 2018, Alzanoon was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rather inauspicious beginning to her highschool journey.

Alzanoon recalls stories of her fretting over finishing her homework, laughing about her worry to manage schoolwork in addition to her critical health condition.

“Everytime I would go to a chemotherapy lesson, I would try to do homework at the same time as they would last up to five hours,” Alzanoon said.  “My therapists would always playfully scold me, asking ‘what are you doing? Put that away!’

Obviously the last thing I wanted to worry about was school, but at the same time it gave me a sense of normalcy.”

After three physically enduring months and six cycles of chemotherapy, Alzanoon beat cancer on December 4th, 2018.  Following her powerful success story, she vowed to dedicate her life to service.

“Finally becoming cancer-free just made me really passionate about helping others get through everything just like I was able to,” Alzanoon said. “I really wanted to make a difference after everything I had gone through–to use my experience to do something good.”

Her wishes certainly did not go unfulfilled.

Inspired by her gripping story, Alzanoon’s friends formed an initiative to raise $25,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, dubbing themselves Team Zeena in her honor.

Nominated for LLS’s Students of the Year fundraising program, sophomores Saiyra Qureshi and Olivia Kurani founded the project, gathering friends to help support Alzanoon through the improvement of the lives of young people like Zeena also fighting cancer.

Desiring to show Alzanoon that she would never have to battle cancer alone, Qureshi jumped at the opportunity to lead a project directly inspired by her story.

“I didn’t know Zeena when she had cancer, but I know that she lost friends as a result of it, and some people didn’t stick around for her,” Qureshi said. “I really wanted to show her that I would have been someone who was there for her to help her unconditionally.”

I really wanted to show her that I would have been someone who was there for her to help her unconditionally.

— Saiyra Qureshi

Team member Zayneb Bensalem, a sophomore, was inspired to join the initiative as a direct result of Alzanoon’s incredible personality and accomplishments in spite of the restraining disease.

“I’ve been observing how truly remarkable Zeena’s recovery has been,” Bensalem said, “and I think it’s really inspiring to see how strong she has become since I first met her in her weak post-chemo state.  Now, she is so active and is always helping around the community.”

Serving as a team member of the project inspired by her own story has made Alzanoon extremely appreciative.

“The fact that I was able to inspire others and that people look up to me as a strong person is really cool,” Alzanoon said, “and I am so glad that I could be the motivation of a team doing something so great.”

Among the main goals of Team Zeena besides raising $25,000 is raising awareness about how common cancer really is, attainable through a story as local as Alzanoon’s.

“I always grew up hearing about all these cancer survivors, but it never really hit me because I didn’t personally know any of these people,” Bensalem said. “By seeing how my own friend had been affected by the disease made me realize how common and how much of an issue it actually is, and I hope that more people within the community can realize that as a result of our project.”

GBHS Honors English 10 teacher Anthony Davis is also a team member, motivated to take part in the initiative as he was reminded of his own son’s experience with cancer.

“My son had a brain tumor when he was two and a half,” Davis said, “so I connect with and relate with Zeena in a way as I personally know somebody young, (like Zeena), who has had that kind of life-changing, potentially life-ending disease.”

As a result, Davis agrees with the greater impact of raising awareness about cancer through the story of a peer.

“The face, I think more than anything, makes all the difference,” Davis said.  “For example, my Pennies for Patients box sort of just sits there and goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but to have a student who has gone through (cancer)–to have a face to be able to look at and realize ‘oh, wow this is real,’ creates a greater emotional connection to the issue.”

As fundraising ends April 3rd, Team Zeena encourages any donations possible, emphasizing the benefit of representing the Granite Bay community.

“As Team Zeena,” Alzanoon said, “we are representing the whole community, and if anybody could help donating, it would represent us as a whole.”

Qureshi added, “If we can make a difference, any student can make a difference.”

Donations can be made at events.lls.org/sac/sacsoy20/tzeena.