Every year, the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) honors those who have demonstrated strength and perseverance in their battle with sarcoma. On April 30, during the 13th Annual Sarcoma Foundation of America fundraiser, A Celebration of Life, the SFA will honor some very deserving individuals who have inspired other sarcoma patients by demonstrating that they do not have to be physically, emotionally or spiritually defeated by sarcoma.
We are pleased to introduce you to this inspiring group of people. We hope that you will be as touched by their stories as we have been.
Richard Gorlick, MD – Nobility in Science Award
Dr. Gorlick received his MD degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and trained at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where he remained as a Faculty Member until joining the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2004 where he is now a Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Pharmacology and Division Chief of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore as well as the Vice Chairman of Pediatrics. Dr. Gorlick has directed a research laboratory since 1998 focused on drug resistance and mechanisms of pathogenesis in osteosarcoma with a view to improving treatment options through identifying therapeutic targets. He is a co-author on over 200 manuscripts. His clinical interests are in the care of children and young adults afflicted with sarcomas. He holds numerous national and international roles. At present he serves as the Chair of the Bone Tumor Disease Committee of the Children’s Oncology Group. He serves as a member of the Clinical Research Committee of the Sarcoma Alliance for Research Through Collaboration (SARC). He is the past-president of the Connective Tissue Oncology Society.
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Jane Thornquist – Compassionate Care Award
Currently on staff at the NYU Clinical Cancer Center in NYC, Jane has been working in the field of Nursing since 2006, earning her degree from Pace University. She gained an early affinity for the specialty area of oncology while in Nursing School and furthered her interest while on staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital. What began with the occasional oncology patient on a medical surgical unit blossomed into a career entirely focused on helping people with a cancer diagnosis. Over the five years where she has been working at NYU, she has gained invaluable experiences working closely with many types of oncology patients, including many with various forms of sarcoma. On a daily basis, the work of caring for patients, diligently working to create optimal outcomes for them, while seeing them bravely work through many difficult days and months of treatment, is endlessly gratifying and humbling. The inner strength and focus of these patients, amidst times of great change and personal ordeal, continues to inspire Jane to reach further and continue to grow as a nurse. Quite simply, the work is about the patients and learning to listen and be fully present with each meeting and each encounter. This work adds up to a hugely rewarding vocation and one Jane appreciates a great deal. In recent years, the work with sarcoma patients, under the care of Dr. Gerald Rosen and Adrienne Cacavio, NP, has been especially interesting.
Jane’s interests outside nursing include music and dance. Singing in a local choir and doing collaborative projects with other artists keep the arts alive in her life. Always interested in complementary and alternative forms of care, Jane hopes to develop a wellness program on her infusion floor for her fellow nurses using techniques of yoga and stress reduction. She lives in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Garrison, New York with her husband and two children. Jane is delighted to be a part of this event and would like to thank Amira Yunis and the Sarcoma Foundation for honoring her with this award.
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Damon Billeck – Courage Award
On January 31, 2014, at age 9 Damon’s mother gave him a loving hug and felt something hard in his left arm. Concerned, she took him to the Med Clinic. After several hours and two hospitals later we were informed he had Osteosarcoma Bone Cancer. The ‘something hard’ was a massive tumor. Over the next few weeks several Doctors told Damon and his parents his arm would have to be amputated to save his life. Not giving up, we found a Doctor who thought otherwise and ultimately saved his arm. Damon was so strong, his strength reached Pharrell Williams who sent him a video of hope and inspiration and told Damon he would do great things with his life [https://youtu.be/KtX54oQlLyk]. Damon has done just that! He has become a spokesperson for Pediatric Cancer, working with WNBA Silver Stars, SA Rampage, SA Missions Baseball, Chili’s and local hospitals. He also created the ‘Happy’ challenge that went viral to spread the word. He has become a beacon of hope and strength for many including his family (Mother-Lisa, Father-Brian, Brothers Brandon & Stephen and his twin sister Dara). Damon is now cancer free, but his plight for pediatric cancer and Sarcoma awareness continues.
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Logan Brandt – Courage Award
Logan was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in 2010 at the age of 4 years old. He went under 6 weeks of radiation without sedation, 9 months of outpatient chemotherapy and multiple surgeries and hospitalizations and for the most part…all with a smile! His daily trip, five days a week from Eastern Long Island to the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx meant leaving early mornings and returning home late in the evening on most days. Logan’s amazing demeanor and love of life is what gave him the courage and strength to endure the intense conditions placed on such a young child. Logan and his family operated on personal faith and faith in Dr. Gorlick and his associates, taking one day at a time and knowing it will all work out. Logan lives by the motto “you have cancer…it’s what you have, not who you are”. He never let his diagnosis define him, and now at 9 years old, a proud survivor, he is just learning the reality of what he went through at such a young age. Today, Logan can be found on the lacrosse or football fields, playing his cello or just clowning around with his little brothers and friends. He has been cancer free since October of 2010, just before his 5th birthday, and is proudly off treatment for 4 years. Logan plans to attend Duke when he’s older and become a scientist or a doctor, just like Dr. Gorlick.
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Ryan A. Davis – Courage Award
As I turned 34 in the spring of 2011 life was great. I was married to my college sweetheart and we had three wonderful children. I always had a goal to achieve ahead of me and my focus was on the future A good friend of mine once said to me, “You need to live for today and not for the future.” I laughed and brushed his comment aside as that comment didn’t play out in my plan.
However, in the fall of 2011 my life and plans came crumbling down after visiting the doctor for a knee pain that I thought developed playing basketball. The words, “you have cancer” still brings the same emotional response that it did then. Furthermore, the doctor said that I had osteosarcoma, a rare cancer that I had never heard before. The days immediately following this devastating news are vivid yet mind numbing. The tears flows as we wrestled with my mortality and the impact that cancer and my potential loss would have on our three kids. The plans that were once so important to my future lay crumbled at my feet. For now, my only goal was to “Beat Cancer.”
Since diagnosis I have endured multiple surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation treatments and clinical trials. Many of these failed at controlling the cancer but I have never waivered, holding hope in the next treatment. Years have passed since receiving a prognosis of less than six months and it has been difficult to watch my friends around me succumb to the disease. Even as I endure treatments today I hold hope for a miracle. It is my passion to share my story with other patients and caregivers. My message to them is always the same, “Don’t let cancer define who you are and don’t let someone else write the last chapter in your book.” By the grace of God I am still here today as I refuse to let others finish my story.
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Brooke Hamilton – Courage Award
Less than one month after graduating college in 2005, at the age of 21, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I immediately underwent 9 months of rigorous chemotherapy along with a surgery to remove the tumor and replace the majority of the tibia the tumor was on at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. Upon completion of my treatment I have been healthy for 9 years and am so thankful to the doctors at Montefiore and organizations like the SFA who strive for a cure everyday. While one of the hardest experiences of my life, I am excited to share my story and inspire others dealing with this experience or share in my passion to give back.
I am now 31 years old and live in Manhattan. I love to explore the city and all it has to offer. I actually ended up in the city because of being sick. I had planned to complete grad school in Rhode Island, but ended up doing it in NY once I completed treatment. Ended up being a great thing for me! I also enjoy going to the gym, shopping and spending time with family and friends. I just completed a second surgery on my leg and now hope to be able to start running marathons.
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Michael LoFaso – Courage Award
At 53 years old, Michael LoFaso was setting the groundwork to start a new chapter in his life. With over 30 years in the FAA working Air Traffic Control in the busiest, most complex airspace in the world, much to his dismay, mandatory retirement was a few years away. He decided to follow a lifelong dream and he opened up a retail garden center. This would keep him busy through his retirement years.
Michael, the typical “Type A” personality, is competitive and work obsessed. He wasn’t about to let a life threatening diagnosis get the best of him.
“The plan was to go in, get it done, and move on,” says LoFaso. Michael fought bravely through the high dose chemotherapy, the limb salvage surgery, and the several complications that followed.
He was always up for the challenge and a true inspiration to his fellow patients at the cancer center. Much to everyone’s surprise he was released on the 3rd day after surgery and was able to skip the rehab center. All this while refusing any pain medications. “The pain meds made me drowsy and out of control. I needed to remain in control,” says LoFaso.
More than 3 years have passed since Michael’s diagnosis of Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma in the left distal femur. 20 years ago this diagnosis would have meant an amputation. Today his leg is as strong as ever, with almost no limitations. Not a day goes by that he is not amazed and grateful for what medical technology has done for him. But he also reflects on the others that continue to fight this disease.
Michael is now healthy, cancer free, and engaged to marry his longtime girlfriend. He is honored to be the recipient of the Courage Award from the Sarcoma Foundation of America. He would like to dedicate this award in memory of his good friend Beth Levy Feigenblatt, who also fought bravely right by his side. When times were tough Beth looked to Michael for support and inspiration and Michael was proud to be able to offer that to her, and now to support the vital research necessary to help others in the sarcoma community.
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Christopher Louie – Courage Award
In February of 2012, Christopher Louie woke up one morning with an odd pain in his upper right arm. Dismissing the pain as a sport injury, Christopher went on to try out and make the school baseball team. Soon after, the pain had subsided but a giant lump appeared on his upper right bicep. After seeing numerous specialists, Christopher was diagnosed with Angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels. To further complicate matters, the cancer had metastasized to his lungs.
Dr. Robert Maki and his team from Mt. Sinai Hospital mapped out an aggressive treatment plan of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Dr. James Wittig successfully removed the tumor and in March of 2013, Christopher concluded treatments with no evidence of cancer.
After being homeschooled for his sophomore year in high school, Christopher was able to return to school as a junior. He made the school baseball team again, albeit somewhat rusty. More importantly, though, Christopher became an advocate for the cancer community by spreading awareness at health fairs, participating in fundraisers and working alongside children with cancer.
Throughout his journey, Christopher received tremendous support from his family, friends, and community. Additionally, he had the best medical staff in the world. Christopher is excited for what lies ahead and is determined to continue to help those with cancer. As Laurell K. Hamilton once said, “If you are blessed, or lucky enough, to be doing well, you should help others.”
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Daniel Shinn – Courage Award
My name is Daniel Shinn and I am a cancer survivor, but being able to say that proudly without any fear of having to return to the fight for my life wasn’t an easy task. I am now 25 years old and have been in remission for 2 years. I fought a long and hard battle against a soft tissue sarcoma known as rhabdomyosarcoma and I am happy to say that everything has been going smoothly since my last round of chemotherapy. I am currently a senior at LIU post in Brookville LI and will be graduating in May 2015. Graduating from a university has been a top priority goal of mine at a very young age, and when I was diagnosed I feared that I may never get to see this day after all. Like many other survivors I struggled to readjust to the norms of life. It wasn’t until I started working as a volunteer at Sunrise Day camp at Pearl River that I was finally able to put my fears at rest. I found the strength within myself and the people around me and that is what truly helped me to stand tall as a cancer survivor, someone who is unafraid of what the world has in store for him, and prepared to face any obstacle head first.
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For more information on A Celebration of Life, visit: https://www.curesarcoma.org/events/a-celebration-of-life/.
For more information on the Annual Patient Educational Conference, visit: https://www.curesarcoma.org/events/2015edconf/.