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A Synergy of Hope and Inspiration

A personal perspective by Debra Gelbart
September 20, 2018

The first thing you notice are the smiles and laughter. Gleaming smiles and hearty laughter among those who have come here from all over America and from across the globe. The next thing you notice are the tears.

You’re not surprised by the second observation, but you are taken off guard a little by the first. After all, this late August weekend in Boston—site of the Seena Magowitz Foundation’s Annual Golf Classic for 2018—is devoted to raising awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research, not exactly a humorous or happy topic. But once you realize how Roger Magowitz and his Seena Magowitz Foundation operate, you understand the good feelings. And the hope.

The sunny outlook infuses every separate event that’s part of the entire package—the Saturday morning meeting for “Dan’s Diamonds” (a more sparkling description of pancreatic cancer survivors and their partners) that gives them a chance to hear life-changing information from world-class doctors and researchers; the tour of downtown Boston on Saturday afternoon; the Saturday evening meet and greet and poker tournament; the Sunday morning-to-afternoon clambake on nearby Thompson Island; the Seena Discovery Dinner on Sunday evening, where those in attendance learn more about the strides being made against pancreatic cancer; and the Monday morning golf tournament at the beautiful, private Wellesley Country Club.

The Seena Magowitz Foundation has been holding fundraising events for 16 years. Those who are fortunate enough to attend even one of them come away with a new-found appreciation for resilience, dedication and generosity.

The resilience among pancreas cancer survivors (known as “warriors” or “Dan’s Diamonds” within the Magowitz Foundation) is palpable, in part because they know they’re making progress as a result of the dedication of the doctors and researchers fighting the disease. So the warriors and the medical professionals are smiling, thanks to the strides made through research that are giving the warriors years more collectively to make their mark on the world.

And the generous sponsors and donors are smiling because they see the tremendous good they’re doing for the wonderful people who have come from near and far to be here.

The tears come during touching exchanges between doctors and warriors and warrior friends who may not have seen each other for more than a year. Tears also come from an audience at dinner listening to a stirring, emotional plea to ask friends to contribute to the cause from a nearly 11-year ( survivor of pancreatic cancer. And tears flow as those in attendance commemorate those warriors who are not here this year. Even event photographer Debby Wolvos, donating her time that would typically be focused on award-winning popular culture themes, gets misty-eyed listening to world-renowned musician Jesse McGuire serenading those gathered at the meet and greet.

It’s a weekend to cherish, because of the people who provide hope—the sponsors, doctors, researchers, warriors and advocates—and because of the talented musicians who entertain out of the goodness of their hearts. Those who attended may have met:

Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., the world’s leading authority on pancreas cancer who has developed trailblazing new treatments for the disease.

Erkut Borazanci, M.D., a renowned clinician and pancreas cancer researcher currently investigating potential early detection protocols for pancreatic cancer.

Haiyong Han, Ph.D., professor and head of the molecular medicine division at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Joyce Shaffer, R.N., an oncology nurse navigator with HonorHealth who helps patients enroll in clinical trials.

Lana Caldwell, R.N., a pancreatic cancer nurse navigator with HonorHealth who guides and supports pancreatic cancer patients.

At least 11 warriors, whose survival ranges from six months to nearly 16 years. Howard Young was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2002, and he sponsors his own golf tournament every year in Atlanta to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Stan Vitikas is an 11-year survivor and is motivated to issue a passionate public appeal for more funding for pancreatic cancer research. He personally raises more than $20,000 each year for the cause and in 2018, he raised closer to $30,000.

At least 75 generous donors and supporters, many representing the mattress and home furnishings industries.

Master of ceremonies Derrick Hall, President and CEO, Arizona Diamondbacks.

Honorary chair Mark Quinn, Co-founder of Spink & Edgar USA.

Live auction callers Mark Kinsley of Leggett & Platt and Michael Magnuson of Good Bed.

Jesse McGuire, a master trumpeter and singer known for the world’s most celebrated rendition on a trumpet of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Country music singers Baillie and the Boys, led by Kathy Baillie and Michael Bonagura.

Alyssa Bonagura, a crossover country singer-songwriter signed to Sony Records who, with Ruby Stewart, leads a band called The Sisterhood.

Johnny Clegg, a South African singer-songwriter who is also a warrior diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April of 2015.

Gary Morris, a singer-songwriter who has performed on Broadway.

“The attention to detail, the personal touches, the keepsake gifts and the amazing hugs are so welcomed and simply unforgettable,” one of the weekend’s participants told me. “Everyone feels Roger’s passion and dedication, and that becomes contagious.”

“The depth of feeling toward one another is difficult to put into words,” Roger Magowitz emphasized. “You feel like you’ve gone to a family reunion that you never want to end.”

After attending a Seena Magowitz Foundation event, you’ll never look at life quite the same way. You’ll feel inspired by boundless courage and tenacity, buoyed by optimism, grateful for the generosity and dedication of those determined to one day find a cure for pancreatic cancer—and in awe of the unpaid staff of the Seena Magowitz Foundation (especially Liz McBeth, along with Nicole Rechtor of Integra Productions), who put together such a seamless, unforgettable weekend-long event every year.

Editor’s Note:

Phoenix-based writer Debra Gelbart has been working with the Seena Magowitz Foundation since June 2017 to tell the remarkable and compelling stories of pancreatic cancer warriors (also known as survivors) and the advocates for expanding pancreatic cancer research, who generously support the activities of the Foundation with donations, their talents and their time. The 2018 Annual Golf Classic in Boston was the first Seena Magowitz Foundation fundraising event Debra attended and she was so moved by the joy and optimism that abounded at the event that she felt compelled to write this first-person essay.

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