Thursday, July 31, 2014

Beyond my Limits: We Will Find a Cure

Below is a post to recap some thoughts tied to my participation in the 2014 Greater Los Angeles Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year campaign.  The post will also serve as this year’s annual writing to honor and remember my daughter Isabella Soleil Wilno as part of Isabella’s Day 2014.  She is no longer here but continues to guide me to great things.  She continues to impact the world without ever having taken a single step on this planet or ever having spoken a single word.  She is why I move forward when sometimes I want to stop.  She is why I take on challenges I might otherwise walk away from and as part of this recent 10 week crusade to raise funds to fight cancer, I believe she is the reason We Will Find a Cure saw great success when barriers to that success were abundant. When I accepted the nomination to be a part of the Man of the Year campaign, I told my friends all I wanted was to exit the program having the ability to look to the sky knowing my Dad and Isabella were smiling down from Heaven proud of the effort.  Well, my precious Isabella, I miss you terribly and I hope you were smiling down on me when I glanced your way.  Here we go:

May 31st….

It was just another night for most people but for me personally………..and for a group of my friends and family……it was a remarkable evening that marked the culmination of the 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year campaign.  One month has passed since that night.  I have thought about this post every day since then but the words have been a struggle for me.  I have often sat down to write but I always fail to come up with anything that will make sense to anybody but me.  The struggle is not finding the words……the struggle is sifting through too many words and too many emotions. I often have this issue after key moments in my life and this was most definitely a key moment.  We Will Find a Cure raised $126,000 towards cancer research in a mere 10 week time period and on May 31, 2014, I was crowned the 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year tied to the effort. Ever since I first shared my story of loss years ago, I have preached that blessings come from the worst of times.  This night was an exclamation to that statement………….one night to add clarity that my very worst days have led to some of the most remarkable moments in my life. 
Collecting my composure

I am going to do my best to add clarity to my thoughts in this post but please know this journey extends well beyond the 10 weeks allotted to the campaign so clarity may be a challenge.  We Will Find a Cure represented so many things not only to me but to everyone that joined me for the ride.  The full extent of what I learned from the experience may never come to me and the words I put here to paper may need revision for years to come.  There is no better evidence of this fact than the specific catalyst that has even motivated me to begin writing………a catalyst in the form of a movie that helped remind me of how far I have traveled and why we should never ever give up.

I currently find myself on a plane ride home from New York where I spent the last few days attending CE Week, visiting vendors and visiting customers.  After completing an hour or so of work, I decided to unwind with a little television so I turned on DIRECTV where I stumbled across the Pursuit of Happyness……..a movie featuring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith.  I have mentioned this movie in a prior post at this blog but I rarely speak about it.  The Pursuit of Happyness reminds me of a dark time after Isabella passed away and after my Dad passed away when I was one wrong move away from my family living on the street.   I was tapped out.  I was 100’s and 100’s of thousands of dollars in debt and that had nothing to do with the mortgage payment on the house my family lived in. This debt was tied to some decisions gone awry followed by some folks defrauding me followed by the final dagger…..the real estate market crash.  I had taken a risk on some properties to try and get myself out of trouble.  My plan was to flip these properties and use the profits to reduce my debts but the real estate market would have none of that so my bad situation worsened.  Bankruptcy was never an option……..pride was part of that I guess but more importantly some friends, in an attempt to help me out, co-signed for the properties I had planned to flip.  There was no way in hell I was going to take them down with me so onward I went hoping for a solution.  We all hit dark times……this one was pitch black for me.  I constantly found myself thinking what a loser I was to put my family in harm’s way like that. 

They deserved better.  
They deserved everything.

 I often thought how much better off my family would be if a bus took me out on the way home because the life insurance would certainly help the family out more than I was able to.  No bus came though.  It didn’t come for Chris Gardner either. That is who the movie The Pursuit of Happyness is based on. He was at rock bottom fighting to keep his family afloat……..sleeping in subway stations……..sleeping in hostels.  He scraped and he clawed and he shoved obstacles out of the way and ultimately won a job at Dean Whitter that marked the light at the end of a very long tunnel.  May 31st was my job at Dean Whitter.  It was proof you can come back.  It was proof that if you are here on this planet still breathing, your time is not done and there is more for you to accomplish.  I never ended up living in a box.  I worked hard.  I pushed forward. I fought back…..and on May 31, 2014, I was crowned the 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man of the Year.  It wasn’t the trophy or the title that meant anything to me.  What meant something was the 10 year ride that led to the 10 week ride that led to the trophy.  What mattered was the life I led to come back from almost living on the street and how people responded. During that 10 year period, I opened up about my story.  I openly communicated about the loss of my Dad and every year I wrote about my daughter Isabella and how her loss has forever changed me.  Even this blog is the result of that communication as I started it in response to cancer deciding one battle with my wife wasn’t enough.  Some people probably didn’t want to hear about my story but for others…….it touched their lives.  My losses helped my life cross paths with many people I otherwise would never have met……truly amazing people that are my friends in real life and my virtual friends connected through social media (who are hopefully my friends in real life soon J).  My losses helped teach me I have the ability to make a difference in this world and in the lives of others which ultimately led to me being a coach for Team in Training, the endurance sports fundraising arm of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  At Team in Training, I was not only introduced to a life of endurance sports but blessed with this coaching opportunity and the chance to share my thoughts on life and what I believe we, as individuals, are all capable of.  I have the honor of showing people that the concept of ‘impossible’ is a myth.  This title of Man of the Year is the culmination of all of that……proof that what I did was meaningful because, honestly, everyone that stood by my side as part of We Will Find a Cure are people in my life because of my losses (my wife and mother excluded).  They are the blessings from the dark times.  They are the proof that people were listening to me and that I was making an impact.

At a high level, this was my journey and honestly, until turning on DIRECTV at 30,000 feet, I didn’t even realize it.  The significance just sat in the back of my mind waiting for Will Smith to remind me of where I had come from.  It probably isn’t how anybody expected this post to open….me included….. but I think it is an important message.  I hope wherever you find yourself in life while reading this post is full of light and joy.  If, however, you find yourself in a place of struggle………..know there are better times ahead.  Dig in.  Learn all you can and fight your way forward.  The struggles you have today can take you to amazing places and lead you to a life you never imagined.  Like I said above, if you are still breathing…….your time here is not finished and your purpose is not fulfilled. There are things to get done and impacts to create so go make it happen.

The message above represents my life’s journey……where I came from and where things landed.  The specifics of this campaign, however, all tied to a hatred of cancer and how friends and family came together to try and find a cure.  There is no way I could write about this campaign in novel form so from here on out you get random bullet points as thoughts invade my mind.  Along the way I hope to recognize the folks that made all of this possible for, without them, this post does not exist.  In case you made it to this point having no idea what I am writing about, I will begin with a quick synopsis.

My name mentioned in USA Today
Early in March of 2014, I accepted a nomination to participate in a 10 week campaign hosted by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).  I was nominated by Sarah Weston Clark….a friend I met through Team in Training, another fundraising arm of LLS where I have dedicated a lot of time to fighting cancer. Up to this point, Team in Training was how I honored the promise I made to my Dad to fight back against the disease that took him, the promise I made to my wife to do the same and the promise I made to my little angel in Heaven, Isabella………to lead a life that makes her proud.  I had fulfilled these promises as an endurance athlete having raised approximately $135,000 over the course of 12 different events from half marathon to Ironman distance triathlon.  I also fulfilled these promises as a coach for Team in Training where I had the blessing to change lives and teach people what they are capable of accomplishing……..which, for the record, is ANYTHING!

In my eyes, I accepted this nomination late in the game.  The 10 week campaign began on March 22nd.  This did not allow a lot of time for planning out a path to success nor did it allow a lot of time to define what success would mean.  Because of this…….accepting the nomination was quite a challenge for me.  The fear of failure was overwhelming which, although it may sound strange, is exactly why I accepted the nomination.  The path was unclear but I always share a quote with newcomers to Team in Training from Martin Luther King that reads “Faith is taking the first step even when you do not see the whole staircase”.  Staring at fear and shoving it aside is also what I say I love about endurance sports.  How could I teach these principles and not act upon them?  The answer is that I couldn’t so into the fire I leapt with some remarkable support from friends and family.  I will go into much more detail on this but please know this campaign is NOT successful if I am walking alone on this journey.

The end result…………in the 10 weeks from March 22 – May 31, 2014, the campaign titled We Will Find a Cure raised over $126,000 towards ridding the world of cancer.  That is a lot of money in a short period of time and there is great personal significance to the amount which I will talk about a little later in this post.  One hundred twenty six thousand dollars was more than any other male participant in the 2014 campaign so on May 31st I was crowned the 2014 LLS Man of the Year.  My name is attached to the honor but this is without question a Team of the Year award because, as I state above, none of this happens without an army of amazing people standing by my side. Now to the miscellaneous thoughts as they come to me:

  •  I have always lived by the principle that if you speak and act from the heart, good things will happen.  This is certainly true 100% of the time and putting yourself out there certainly has some risk but the rewards can be remarkable.  Proof of this concept lies in the 2014 LLS Woman of the Year for Greater Los Angeles, Samara Wolpe.  If you think my $126,000 is a great achievement, you will fall over when I tell you she raised over $350,000.  This is not only significant to Greater LA.  This is not only significant to 2014.  This is the greatest sum of money ever raised by anyone…..anywhere….in a Man/Woman of the Year campaign. To my credit, I had guessed Samara would raise $400,000 because I know her Mom and Dad and they are great cancer fighters with a strong personal connection to the cause and the willingness to use their amazing connections to better the world.  
  • How does Samara prove out my theory on speaking from the heart?  The answer lies in Ellie Wolpe.  Ellie Wolpe is Samara’s Mom.  Years ago, I was speaking at a library in West Hollywood and Ellie happened to be in the audience as I shared my story of loss and why Team in Training was so important to me….and why I felt it could change the life of everyone listening to me if they had the courage to join.  Ellie was touched by my speech and took the leap of faith to register for Team in Training as part of the marathon program I would be leading that summer.  Not only did Ellie join but she raised over $100,000 for that single season…..still a record for any team I have coached.  From there, Ellie went on to do even more amazing things for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society which ultimately led to Samara being a part of the 2014 MWOY campaign.  Be it right or wrong, I like to consider myself a part of Samara’s success story for, if not for that speech in West Hollywood years ago, she might never have found herself on the doorstep of LLS.  Samara, Ellie and David Wolpe are a part of my legacy and are 3 amazing blessings that came out of the darkness that is my story
    All Candidates
  • So far I have talked about the Man of the Year and the Woman of the Year but it is extremely important to mention that all candidates as part of this campaign raised an aggregate total of over $1.1 million.  I always said that this campaign was not about winning……it was different things on a personal level to every participant but the spirit behind it all was about finding a cure for cancer.  If I had come in second or third or last and someone else raised $1m, how could I be unhappy with that result.  The cure is what matters and as a group, all of the 2014 candidates did an amazing job getting us closer to the day when the end of cancer hits the news.  I am proud to have been a small part of the big picture and I am proud of everyone that had the courage to join the Man and Woman of the Year campaign and make a difference.
  • It will be impossible to thank everyone that had a hand in this venture but I damn sure am going to try.  This being said, I am certain to make a mistake and miss someone so I apologize in advance to anyone I fail to mention. I also vow to amend this post to right my wrong :) 
    Crea and I....she needs that giant margarita to tolerate me :)
  • My wife Crea Wilno gets the first thank you.  This campaign did not come at a time ideal for my family.  I was dealing with crazy work stress and work hours coupled with buying a new house, trying to sell an old house and all the stress that accompanies 2 mortgage payments. This campaign was a lot to take on and Crea allowed me the freedom to follow my heart. She has always done this for me.  Without her standing by my side and allowing me the time to coach and train I would have accomplished literally nothing in the world of cancer fighting. I am truly grateful to have Crea as my wife and friend and motivating force.  I am also extremely thankful she had the strength and courage to stare cancer in the face two times……coming out the victor on both occasions…..for without her our family would be lost. Another reason to thank my wife is for all of the work she put into the campaign.  She stuffed hundreds of 1,000 which is no that all of my fundraising letters made it out on time.....she monitored our square page and mailed out any t-shirts that were purchased and she handled mailing all of the virtual #BeatCancer 5K Bibs and medals.
  • Upon accepting the nomination to join the Man of the Year campaign, I immediately reached out to friends and family to see who would be willing to jump into this madness and stand by my side for 10 weeks.  I had no plan of attack so I reached out expressing how important this journey was to me and the response was overwhelming.  I built a team of folks that were willing to go well beyond the call of duty and help me plan this attack.  Lori Jomsky was my very first call.  She has always had my back when I embark upon these crazy journeys and never challenges the high expectations I place upon myself…..she just asks how she can help make it happen.  Other folks that stepped up either initially or over the course of the journey were Javier Rivera, Sarah Clark, Niesja Sharp, Charlene Levy, Lillah McCarthy, Leah Beck, Candice Yee, Allison Ewart, Heather Bilhorn, Jennifer Raymond, Jennifer Giannini, Paul Wintner, Alison Chavez, Carrie Smith, Sarah Harris, Leda Gonzalez, Aubrey Walton, Laura Bittner, Kelley Puckett, Eric Orivieto, Molly Chance, my Mom....Marjorie Wilno and the LLS Club at Newbury Park High School led by Sydney Clark and Jordan Jomsky.  Truthfully, not everyone could step up and help as they initially intended to do but I mention everyone here because the desire to help meant so much out of the gate.  Knowing people were supportive of my decision provided some level of comfort that we were going to be successful.
  • Besides the group of folks mentioned above, there was another group of individuals that stepped up to help We Will Find a Cure in a different way.  The core group of individuals planning We Will Find a Cure determined one of the ways we would raise money as part of this campaign was to build an army of folks sending out their own personal letters and emails.  It really ties back to the name we decided to call our campaign……WE WILL FIND A CURE. My story is what led me to the doorstep of this campaign but everybody has their own personal reason for wanting to end cancer.  This campaign was not about me……it was about all of our sad stories and the need to end them.  On this note, we sent out emails asking if folks would be willing to individually fundraise in support of We Will Find a Cure.  We originally put a budget of $27,000 on this aspect of the campaign but little did we know the army that would enlist.  More than 25 people stepped up to participate and raised a total of over $45,000.  Some of these folks were performing double duty as they were also on the team of people mentioned above helping plan out the 10 week road to success. Even more remarkable….some folks that joined me in battle didn’t even know who I was……well maybe they had heard of me because of the money I had raised as part of Team in Training but we had never met face to face.  That is a very powerful statement about the good people that exist in this world coupled with the hatred of cancer that exists in this world.  I am so grateful to this list #BeatCancer heroes….whether you raised $10 or $10,000: Charlene Levy, Jacqueline Haberfeld, Marjorie Wilno, Lori Jomsky, Aubrey Walton, Crea Wilno, Jennifer Raymond, Jennifer Giannini, Paul Wintner, DeeDee Urquhart, Jeanne Sarmiento, Marian Manzer, Beckie Burns, Krystle Zhang, Gilda DeLaCruz, Jenny Lewis, Niesja Sharp, Carlos Pineda, Mike Cimmarrusti, Peter Woelflein, Rachael Burnson, Eric Orvieto, Tracy Sheridan, Laura Bittner, Ronel Wright, Allison Ewart, Catherine Knight, Anna Belentsova, Sabine Hermann and Aracy Sherrill.
  • A quick thought on the list above.  Asking people to raise money on behalf of this campaign was the most challenging ask of all for me.  I am not sure why but this request seemed beyond reasonable.  Asking time and effort from people was one thing but asking people to tap into their friends and family on behalf of a venture I got myself into did not feel right.  I mention at the top of this post that there are many things I garnered from the Man of the Year experience.  One of those things I garnered was to trust, delegate and let go.  In my career, delegation has never been my strong suit. As it pertains to this aspect of our campaign, delegation and trust were the only way this was going to see success because I did not have it within me to make this request of people.  As such, my friends reached out to their friends and shared my story.  That led to the list above of incredible people that responded to make a difference.  Then Sarah Clark…..the same Sarah Clark that nominated me for this campaign……stepped up to lead the team week by week.  She would send weekly updates and fundraising ideas.  She worked to make sure anyone that wanted to help had the tools to help.  She made sure they were able to set up their fundraising page and she answered all of their questions.  I chimed in occasionally to Sarah’s emails to the team and I would sometimes send my own emails……especially when the finish line looked incredibly far away…..but Sarah and this group of #beatcancer heroes did this on their own.
  • Adaptation. Another key lesson derived from We Will Find a Cure was the ability to adapt.  A few weeks prior to the start of the campaign, we mapped out our path to goal.  At a high level it looked like this:

o   Car sponsorship
o   Corporate sponsorship: we had an inside scoop we could secure a significant donation from a local company one of our team members worked for.
o   My personal letters and emails
o   Team personal letters and emails
o   Big event: at this point it was a concert or a nice sit down dinner
o   Donation tins
o   Raffle
o   T-shirts
o   Drag Queen Bingo x 2
o   Silent Auction Items/Charity Buzz
o   It is important to note our plan was NOT to participate in incentives offered by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As an example, we could secure volunteers for the Grand Finale and the value of the donated services would get added to our fundraising total (i.e. you could secure an event photographer to volunteer their services). There were also weekly challenges.  Our belief at the time was these incentives distract us from our main fundraising efforts…..this would prove completely false.

While we did act on many of the ideas above, We Will Find A Cure certainly arrived at the finish line having taken a different route than expected.  Major car companies immediately turned us down. We had prepared a presentation for BMW, as an example, and knew someone that could make sure our presentation was made it to review but ultimately we did not secure a car (please note this is NOT a knock on BMW…..they are a very charitable organization).  This was our $25-50,000 idea thrown out the window.  Our inside lead on the local corporate sponsorship also fell through tied to a technicality whereby the donation could not be made to an individual. We tried to make the point that this was a group effort despite my name being attached to the donation but it did not work.  This was our $15-25,000 idea so now, before we even started we were seeing more failure than success.  What remained on our list was not enough to raise substantial dollars so my fear of failure was starting to come into focus.  $50,000 was the minimum amount needed in order for me to feel good about our effort .  Once clearing $50,000 I vowed I would take a quick sigh of relief but I should have known me better….I am really not the kind of guy that is ever content.  We were at $50,000 at approximately the 5 week mark.  You might think $50K at the half way point was a good thing but I felt like our team was tapped out.  All of our big money making ideas were behind us….the 5 weeks that lied ahead were an empty slate with few ideas to drive donations.  This was unfortunate because my definition of success began to gain clarity and the total that came into focus was $100,000.
  • A quick pause to explain the significance of $100,000 (I told you this was going to be a group of random thoughts).  For each $50,000 you get to attach a name to a research grant.  At $50,000 my father would be the first name attached to the grant.  This was significant in that he would literally be a part of fighting back against the disease that took his life.  At the second $50,000 raised ($100,000 total) my daughter Isabella’s name would be attached to the research grant.  While it is not cancer that took our daughter, she has been a big part of the fight over these years.  We lost her while my Dad was fighting cancer and it is her passing that led to the cancer diagnosis in my wife.  She has been my motivation on a daily basis and, honestly, she has served as motivation to so many others over the years.  It just felt appropriate to have my precious angel attached to something tangible……proof that anybody can make a difference.  I will get repetitive below regarding this but I cannot emphasize enough how much this $100K total drove me down the stretch.  It kept me up at night.  I was an emotional train wreck when  $100,000 looked so far out of reach. I shared this fear with folks on the campaign and at LLS and tears very often invaded the conversation.  The amazing part is that everyone around me accepted this goal as their own too.  Isabella was my promise to keep but literally everyone took it upon themselves to make sure we did everything in our power to get Isabella's name on the grant.  My goal became everyone's goal and it is what we drove to relentlessly.  I remember clearly the reaction when I was announced the winner on May 31st....tears streaming down the faces of my teammates. This meant as much to them as me and I cannot describe to you how much that means to me....that people would give so much of themselves to help me accomplish this task.
  • Another quick pause.  At $150,000 Crea, my wife, would have her name attached to a grant.  In the end we were only $24,000 away from making that happen so, if I have, any regrets it is not knowing how close we could come.  We were a long way from $100,000 with a short period of time to go but I wish I had the vision and faith to see this would all come through so that I might have thought of a way to get that last $50,000. My wife does not mind.  She is not upset at all. She is just my hero and I wish I had got it done for her.
  • When I accepted my nomination to participate in this campaign, I was told that all successful campaigns need a good website and a good video speaking to the personal connection.  This was fantastic except I did not know how to build a website nor do I possess the skill set to make a great video……I did make a video for Isabella’s Day 2013 which was meaningful to me but certainly no masterpiece.  As such, I was yet again dependent on others and asking for help.  Help for the website came from Leah Beck who was also on the team helping to map out this campaign.  She jumped in and was the master behind  Leah has a job and a life but she managed to set aside the time so that this campaign had a chance for success.  The solution for the video did not come as easy.  I reached out for help but the folks I knew could help were all too busy.  Just when all seemed lost a few people stepped up to save the day.  Pai Wei was one of the first.  He is a big proponent of Team in Training and the master behind some incredible footage from Team in Training Triathlon seasons.  He agreed to meet me on the streets where both of us have trained countless hours to get some footage that might help in the overall production of the video. He filmed me running and biking and took some creative shots which were quite remarkable.  None of this footage made it into the final cut but I am so grateful to Pai and I have some footage that I am sure will get used in my lifetime.  The other person to step up was Nazie Tashakorian, a former participant on one of the teams I coached and I have to say this was unexpected…which is why it is so amazing.  Nazie was part of the Disney Half Marathon crew in Fall 2013 and some family health issues led to her not being able to complete the race.  Despite that disappointment, Nazie reached out to her husband Eddie and her brother in law, Dani of Dani Evocophotography and they agreed to shoot the footage and produce the video.  The weight lifted off of my shoulders when these guys stepped up to help was enormous.  I met Eddie and Dani in Hollywood to share my story.  I also sent them articles written about me as well as letters I had written and links to other posts at this website.  They turned all of that information into interview type questions which they asked me on camera.  The end result is the video you see at the We Will Find a Cure website.  The end result is that video helped secure critical donations so these guys are a big part of our success.
Okay, I am going to try and wrap this up by walking everyone through some of the key moments/items on the path to raising $126,000.  I have already stated this but really need to do so again……there is no way I can recognize every single person that had an impact on this campaign.  I am already worried about being too detailed and having this post turn into a 500 page novel.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE know that I am grateful for everything whether you name has made this post or not. Here are some of the ways we achieved success:

  • My letter writing and email campaign proved more successful than I anticipated.  I had budgeted $5,000 for my efforts but went well beyond raising more than $17,000. I guess I underestimated my friends but that was only because so many of them were either fundraising for themselves and/or were helping on my team in other ways.
  • As discussed above, the team of individuals fundraising on my behalf did a remarkable job exceeding expectations.  I am not going to individually name persons and amounts because I am grateful to everyone regardless of how much they raised.  For the record, though, we have multiple people raise more than $5,000 and one person that raised greater than $11,000.
  • On the opening night of the 10 week campaign we invited some friends to Karaoke to kick off the fun.  It was an intimate group but raised over $1,000 because folks on my team really worked the bar crowd to sell 50-50 raffle tickets.  One thousand dollars at the start of the campaign may not seem like a lot but it set a remarkable tone that we could be successful and that people were in the fight with me.  Much thanks to Leah Beck for helping get us started on the right track and the mad crew that sold all of the raffle tickets.....I remember Allison Ewart, Joseph Clark and Charlene Levy but I am sure there were more!
You know you want one
  • T-shirt sales produced a few thousand dollars.  Thanks to American Apparel for giving us a great deal on the shirts and to Lorraine Shea for helping secure the screen printing for free.  This being said, we were over zealous with the buy so there are still plenty of shirts if you would like one J.  Our logo is on the front and #BeatCancer is on the back.  Click HERE for our store.
  • While not really tied to reaching $126,000, early in the campaign I joined other participants to be recognized on the field at Dodger’s Stadium. It was definitely a cool moment because my family was there to witness it.  My children are young at 6 and 9 years old but I hope some of what they witnessed during this 10 week campaign sticks with them.  I hope they know their Dad once did something cool and accomplished some great things and more importantly I hope they carry this forward into their own lives.
    I made the big screen
My Mom is the one on the left :)
  • My Mom is worthy of a separate post but I will mention her here because she was a big contributor to the success of this campaign.  Why I want to mention her is, of course, partly due to this but more importantly I want to mention my Mom because of the courage she demonstrated to join the effort and the amazing progress she made over the course of the 10 week journey.  I have always been amazingly close to my Mom.  She is the most giving person I know……the kind of Mom even your friends love to hang around when growing up.  She has literally never placed herself first on any occasion as she is always thinking of the other person. My story involves the loss of my Dad.  Her story involves the loss of her husband…..the love of her life……her soul mate.  My Dad passed away mere days before my parents would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.  I actually think the only reason my Dad held on as long as he did was because of my Mom……….he needed to know she would be okay after he passed.  The day before my Dad passed away, he never woke up from a deep and comfortable sleep.  When I said goodnight that night, I felt like I was saying goodbye. I whispered to my Dad that it was okay to let go……that I would take care of Mom and that we would miss him but be okay and see him on the other side.  A few hours later he let go.  I do not think my Mom has ever been the same since my father passed away.  Time has healed her wounds but she will never be at 100% because a part of her left when he left.  Joining We Will Find a Cure required my Mom to stare some bad memories in the face.  She had to relive some tough times…..times she tried to remove from her memory.  I knew all of this and, truth be told, it is probably one of the reasons I accepted my nomination.  I really believe my Mom needed to face all of this.  She needed to know what kicking cancer in the face felt like.  Beyond having to stare some dark times in the face, my Mom has never really had to ask anybody for help.  Fundraising scared my Mom beyond belief, which is another reason I felt this was important for her.  You are never too old to learn to overcome obstacles so my Mom accepted the challenge.  Through tears, she wrote her fundraising letters and she humbled herself to ask for money. Over the course of the 10 weeks I saw a confidence level grow in my Mom.  She started walking business to business and sharing her story and asking for donations from complete strangers.  She, along with the help of my Aunt Judy, planned a local event where they cooked food and sold beer and raised some more money.  In the end, my Mom raised nearly $7,000 for this campaign on a goal she gave herself of $500-1,000. Ultimately she was there in the room when I was crowned the Man of the Year and I know, like me, my Dad was damn proud of all she accomplished.
  • I already mentioned her but I would be remiss if I did not mention Lori Jomsky again. She
    Lori and I
    stood right by my side start to finish during this campaign.  We both have 60-70 hour a week jobs so the time to work on this campaign came at odd hours and she was always there when I needed her.  She was a big part of everything I mention in this post and a big part of the reason we won.  As were all of the people on the WWFAC team, Lori was vested in the success.  When we won, she cried and still cries to this day when talking about the campaign.  I could list her name in every line items discussed in this post because she was literally involved in every single aspect.
  • I mentioned above that our plan for WWFAC was NOT to participate in weekly challenges and incentives.  We were way off on that one.  I do not know the exact total but we raised between $6-7,000 on incentives.  As an example, we were able to get Teresa Paczkowski of Elena Trevino Designs to donate the design work for the Finale Program which earned us money towards our campaign equal to the value of that work.  I have to call out Teresa a second and third time as well because she put in a lot of time designing the WWFAC logo used for our campaign as well as the #BeatCancer logo we utilized on our t-shirts.  She donated her personal time without ever having met me.  She jumped in to help at the request of a friend and hearing our story.  There truly are amazing people in this world.  I know the news is full of quite the opposite but all around us are remarkable human beings that step up to do heroic things.  Teresa is one of those people.  Besides the incentive for the program design, we were able to sell some ad space in the Finale program and we won almost every weekly challenge because our team was full of rock stars that stepped up when I needed help.
  • Above I discussed that at the 5 week mark we were about half way to the $100,000 mark with no real path to make up the gap.  All that we really had left that could produce significant dollars was our big event……what started as a dinner or concert
    Pre Run Registration
    landed on the #BeatCancer Bottomless 5K.  In case you are wondering…, it was not a nude run or we might have raised $200,000…..the ‘bottomless’ represented an alliance with a local restaurant, Cabo Cantina.  We built into the registration fee a bottomless margarita or Bloody Mary after the race.  Our best-case scenario for the race was $10,000 and, out of the gate, things were not looking good.  Folks were very slow to sign up which was understandable but unfortunate.  We had a great medal to offer but we were not an official timed race…….just an informal fun run which ruled out the hard core runners that may come join us.
    Pre Run Mini Speech
      Despite the slow start, we pushed forward and told the world about our race.  We made contact with Bart Yasso who tweeted about our race……which was very cool for us.  Chris Schauble of KTLA also helped spread the word, which was greatly appreciated.  On a side note, years ago, Chris also helped get my story on the evening news when I pulled a stunt to sell my bad karma on Ebay…..someone would pay me to root for the other team for the Super Bowl when Green Bay played the Steelers.  Anyway, folks started to sign up and what was really helping our cause is that when people registered at our site, they were als
    Great moment...Me with Alison and her Mom Beth
    o making donations and buying t-shirts. Along the way, we added a virtual option for folks that could not make the race or were from out of state or out of country.  Ultimately 220 people registered, which, combined with donations, and t-shirt sales brought in over $20,000.  So many people put in so much work to make this day a success.  I could not possibly name all of them but I can tell you our success was as important to them as me.  I remember after giving a little pre-race send off speech and sending off runners with an air horn, I turned to see my friend Charlene Levy crying as everyone headed down the street.  Everyone was vested in We Will Find a Cure……….my story got us off the ground but ‘We’ were responsible for the success. There were a few other highlights from the day I want to mention.  One was having Alison Chavez come to our race.  Alison is a veteran Team in Training peep…..a crazy endurance athlete and someone who had cancer knock on her door. She had been battling breast cancer for a while but gathered the strength to come complete 3.1 miles as part of our event and she will never know how grateful I am for her participation (even if she is reading this post!). Tobey Jomsky, Lori Jomsky’s son, also gets a shout out.  Tobey had suffered an unfortunate incident recently, which resulted in a broken back.  Despite all of the pain from a recent surgery, Tobey really wanted to be a part of our big day so he came to the run and handed out every medal to every finisher on this day. It really made a special day for me even more incredible.  To Tobey, I really hope you know that a full life lies in front of you.  A broken back is a temporary setback in what will be a life full of incredible memories and a life that I am sure will have great impact on many others.
    Tobey waiting for the first runners
  • Much thanks to Javier Rivera and Audrey Duffy for their relentless search for an available date for Drag Queen Bingo. We had budgeted money for this function but every date during our 10 week campaign had been taken so Javier kept following up looking for cancellations and late in the game one came through.  Drag Queen bingo is a fundraising staple for everyone at LLS but
    The Bingo Crew
    in 10 years I had never been.  I had heard of the madness and Roxy but had yet to experience it for myself.  Because of the late notice, the team had to make a mad push to come up with giveaway prizes and items for raffle and, in the end, we were able to raise a few thousand dollars. As I think back, it was one of the ways we were able to close the gap down the stretch.

  • We were able to raise over $5,000 on Charity Buzz thanks to some hard work by Lillah McCarthy.  Part of that hard work was securing items worthy of a silent auction and part of the work was simply dealing with Lori Jomsky and I!  In the end, Lillah was able to secure some incredible meet and greet celebrity experiences with Conan and Eric Dane.  She also secured tickets to the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards along with passes to the after party for the show.  Besides these items we also were able to secure a back stage meet and greet with Flo Rida thanks to David Elmekies who didn’t even know me when the WWFAC campaign began.  He heard my story and simply asked how he could help us reach our goal.  Once again, the world is full of remarkable people making a difference.
Huge thanks to Franco Bicycles!!
  • The very last big financial push came on the night of May 31st which was the Grand Finale for the Man and Woman of the Year campaign.  We had not planned on participating in the silent auction aspect of this evening or the live auction which were for items having a value greater than $5,000.  In the spirit of adapting along the way…….we participated in both and I have to give great thanks to Franco bicycles and to Jules Jomsky for introducing Franco to WWFAC.  He set in motion the events that led to Franco donating a remarkable Carbon Fiber time trial bicycle.  This thing was decked out and at auction raised over $3,000 towards our campaign.  If you are out looking for a bike, please check them out at  They have a remarkable product with remarkable service and they are good people.  Beyond Franco, there is an army to thank.  Kelley Puckett scored amazing Dodger tickets, Sarah Clark for dressing up every silent auction item we had and making it look presentable, EATZ LA and everyone that hustled Los Angeles to secure gift certificates from restaurants and hotels.
Gilda showing off a jeans shirt purse
  • Yard Sale.....almost forgot that one.  This was another very late event that Leah Beck helped lead and and army stepped in.  We were able to raise over $1,000 with a week to go because of everyone's hustle.  There were also a lot of good times had that morning and I must note that this was the very first yard sale of my entire life.....only took 47 years.  Thanks Leah, Michelle, Gilda, Candice, Leda, Lillah, Laura, Ron, Erin, Molly, Allison, Crea, Lori and all of our kids for teaching me how to let go of your possessions, have a good time, accept pennies on the dollar and have those pennies add up to a lot of money.
I could go on to talk about so many other things but this post is already getting incredibly long.  Down the stretch, I am not quite sure how we closed the gap to $100,000 let alone exceeded it by $26,000.  I remember reaching out to everyone I could think of and humbling myself to say I really needed help.  The thought of not getting to $100,000 brought me to tears on occasion so I had to push forward.  In my eyes, missing the $100,000 mark meant failing Isabella and, while I know she wouldn’t feel that way, I had to arrive at the finish line knowing I tried everything I could to reach that total.  In the end, people responded.  Ron Harvey of Punk Rock Racing donated profits from t-shirt sales to help close the gap. Friends not even on the team asked their friends to support the cause and $500 checks would arrive.  Friends like Niesja Sharp helped us get creative when ideas were running thin.  In the end, the ‘We’ in We Will Find a Cure is how this campaign was successful and why this campaign was crowned the victor.  I have not come close to mentioning everyone in this post.  I simply could never get that done so to those not mentioned by name, please know I am forever in your debt and grateful beyond belief.  There are people that donated big amounts and raised insane amounts of money not mentioned because I do not want the folks that gave $10 to feel any less appreciated.  I hope you all understand but, if you do not, email me and I will amend this post to make sure you are included.

Well, it took a while but I made it to the end of this post.  I wish I could tell you all of this led to a cure but as I sit and write the final sentences of this post, cancer lives on.  We still have work to do as friends and family of all of us are currently fighting for their lives.  We are working to determine the next steps for We Will Find a Cure because we believe it can continue to make a difference.  If you would like to accompany us wherever the future may take us, please like our Facebookpage.  Either way, thank you for your time in reading this and thank you for all of the support over the years.  I hope you have found some inspiration from this story and/or from my story and if so, I hope you use that inspiration to go make an impact on the world.  Cheers.

WWFAC set up pre concert. Design by Jennifer Raymond

Group shot at the Finale

Accepting the award!

Top two men in the house!

All Male Candidates

Struggling to talk through tears

Top two men and women

Shay and Thalia selling cookies at the Yard Sale

Crea fought Gilda for the purse!

Post race drinks!

Me and rock star Tobey at the 5K

Me and him....her...Roxy! Bingo!

#BeatCancer Medal!

Someone is taking advantage of the bottomless aspect of the run

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris. My name is Cameron Von St. James and I came across your blog when I was searching for people who have talked about cancer. I can't help but reread your posts over and over again thinking how similar our stories are but yet so different. This was such a wonderful post to read and I congratulate you on all of your successes in exceeding your fundraising goal for the LLS Man & Woman of the Year award. I found myself tearing up as I learned more and more about your story and what you've been through. What an amazing accomplishment and I can't thank you enough for all that you are doing in raising awareness for cancer. I was wondering if you could email me when you have a moment. I'd love to ask you a question. Thanks again. There are wonderful people in this world, and you sure are one of them. The best way to reach me is cvonstjames AT gmail DOT com