SFA Courage Awards

2014 Sarcoma Foundation of America
Courage Award Recipients

Every year, the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) honors those who have demonstrated strength and perseverance in their battle with sarcoma.  On May 5, during the 12th Annual Sarcoma Foundation of America Gala, the SFA will present Courage Awards to 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.

Marissa Friedman

IMG_2655Marissa Friedman, a sarcoma survivor and Sarcoma Foundation of America volunteer, kicked off the SFA’s inaugural year participating in the San Francisco Marathon on, June 16, 2013. In May 2012, at 27 years old, Marissa was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma which is found in only 800 people annually. Already a runner, she was registered for the 2012 San Francisco Marathon. Instead of spending the summer training, she was receiving chemotherapy treatment and undergoing surgery to remove the tumor which was wrapped around her femoral artery.

Marissa’s strength, determination, and refusal to be defeated by sarcoma, inspired her to set the goal of participating in and completing the 2013 SF Marathon. What makes Marissa’s participation in the SF Marathon all the more remarkable was that she was just three months out from completing her radiation treatment for synovial sarcoma. Marissa led the fundraising team for this event and recruited loved ones to participate in the race, as well as raise awareness and funds for sarcoma. Combined, Marissa’s team raised $8,145 in funds for sarcoma research.

While this contribution is a start, she feels the marathon is really not complete until there is a cure for all types of sarcoma and anything she can do to find a cure for sarcoma in her lifetime is an integral part of her life as a cancer survivor. SFA works tirelessly to make this happen and to increase awareness and education on behalf of sarcoma patients. She feels learning how to thrive as a cancer survivor has been more challenging in many ways than the treatment process as you understand how to chart this next step and SFA’s efforts are so incredibly instrumental to sarcoma patients and survivors as well as their families.

Marissa currently lives in Northern Virginia with her fiancée Steve. Steve and her best friend Kelsey also completed the race with her and were an invaluable part of the fundraising efforts. Marissa is beyond grateful for the strength of her friends and family and credits this as her personal definition of courage.

You can make a donation honoring Marissa by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Marissa Friedman” in the comments section.

The Giordano Family

Giordano Family PhotoMathias was a very active kid who loves to play soccer. He played on a local travel team and was on the fields 4-5 times a week. He also enjoys playing football with his younger brother Troy.

In July 2012 he started complaining about severe pain in his right leg, right below the knee. We thought maybe it’s a minor soccer injury. An X-ray showed something suspicious and we followed up with an MRI that confirmed something was wrong. We were advised to visit Children’s National Medical Center & discuss treatment. After further testing (X-ray & CT Scan of the chest) we were sent to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that Mathias has metastasized Osteosarcoma. On July 31, 2012, he started his first round of chemo and on October 19, 2012, he had his right leg amputated below the knee to get rid of the tumor. He continued with his chemo protocol and had two lung surgeries in NYC at Memorial Sloan Kettering to remove the spots in his lungs. He finished his last round of chemo on August 5, 2013.

August was a good month as we were just trying to get back to some sort of “normalcy” in our lives. But then Mathias was rescanned and we got the news that he had relapsed only within weeks from end of therapy. Our hearts broke in million pieces and we thought the fight must go on! So we went back to NYC and Mathias had yet another surgery to remove the spots on his lung and we started two new chemo drugs after he recovered from his surgery.

He had four rounds of the new chemo treatment and was rescanned again. All we had hoped for was for him to have a clean scan and to be able to live life as a normal 12-year-old should do. We wanted him to go back to school, back to the soccer fields, back to life as he knew it before cancer. We were told that the chemo is not working and the tumors in his lungs are growing.

(Up to date, in total Mathias has had 25 rounds of high dose chemo, an amputation, and three lung surgeries)

We were then advised to take a break from chemo treatment and try to seek an alternative treatment. We met with a few different doctors around the country from MSKCC, John Hopkins, NIH, Children’s National in DC, and Levine Children’s Hospital in NC who specialize in OsteoSarcoma and clinical trials for this monster. Mathias was rescanned on December 16th and we finally got some good news, that the tumors are stable! So we took the good news and decided to focus on the positive news. Mathias has been working really hard on his walking with the new prosthesis and has spent lots of time trying to catch up on school work. Despite the fact that he was unable to attend school all last year and this year due to treatment and surgeries, he has managed to stay in honors classes in all subjects and is even taking Latin as a foreign language. He is unstoppable. He has such a great attitude to life and is still smiling and fighting so hard to beat this cancer.

He is an inspiration to us, our friends and family. He wants to beat this cancer and move on with life. He feels honored & so proud to have been chosen to be honored at this event. This event has given all of us hope and something fun & exciting to look forward to. We love to be back in NYC this time for FUN, unlike our previous trips packed with surgeries and long hospital stays.

Thank you to the Sarcoma Foundation of America for this honor!

You can make a donation honoring the Giordano Family by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Giordano Family” in the comments section.

Charlie Mingroni

CharlieMingroni-BioPICWhen Charlie received his Ewing’s Sarcoma diagnosis at age 22, he chose to accept the startling health news in the only way that made sense to him. He embraced his challenge with sarcoma and decided he needed to live life to the fullest. He believed, that in his life, sarcoma could serve as a perfect opportunity to help him resolve his fears and worries about life and death. Charlie discovered it was possible to leverage the diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma and the disease itself as an extraordinary learning tool to help him create a new way of life, build new levels of personal happiness and find purpose and meaning as a human being.

Ewing’s Sarcoma provided Charlie with an unlikely opportunity to begin living the life he was previously too afraid to imagine. The unusual catalyst empowered Charlie to let go of his fears about death in order to accentuate a truly happy life. Charlie’s powerful outlook provided inspiration for the hit song THE REMEDY (I Won’t Worry) by Grammy-award winning artist Jason Mraz.

More than twelve years have passed since Charlie was diagnosed and survived a rigorous treatment protocol. In that span of time, Charlie has worked to explore dreams as a traveler, baseball umpire, DJ and as a caretaker in music management. Now also an author and speaker, Charlie shares his stories of powerful transformations about being diagnosed, surviving sarcoma and finding one’s own brand of happiness.

Charlie now resides happily and healthy in his hometown of Mechanicsville, VA, and he is honored to receive the Courage Award from the Sarcoma Foundation of America and support the sarcoma research that is vital to the sarcoma cancer community.

You can make a donation honoring Charlie by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Charlie Mingroni” in the comments section.

Michelle O’Donnell

photoMichelle is honored to receive this Courage Award and support the work of the Sarcoma Foundation of America. In May of 2012, Michelle, who was rarely ever sick at all in her life, woke up one morning in agonizing pain in her abdomen. By June she had to have part of her colon removed along with an unusual looking tumor which was sent off to pathology. Three weeks later she was told she had a rare disease called desmoid tumors which most doctors had never even heard of. With a long recovery ahead, along with feeling frightened and alone she eventually found others with her same affliction by searching for support groups on the internet. She turned her pain in to purpose by raising money and awareness for The Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation. As of now, she is tumor free and continues to live life as vivaciously as possible.

You can make a donation honoring Michelle by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Michelle O’Donnell” in the comments section.







Evan Ruggiero

Evan Ruggiero Headshot

Evan Ruggiero began dancing at the age of 5 in his hometown studio and by age 10, he was accepted into the famed New Jersey Tap Ensemble, under the direction of Ms. Deborah Mitchell. He soon graced the stages of Lincoln Center, The Shomberg Museum of Harlem and The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, among others. Upon entering his sophomore year at Montclair State University while pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre, Evan was suddenly diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer of the right leg. Enduring nine surgeries in a six-month period in an effort to save the leg, the cancer returned more aggressively than the original diagnosis. He was faced with the ultimate decision of amputation in order to stop the cancer and save his life, as well as undergoing chemotherapy for 16 months. In spite of the physical setback, Evan held close to the dream of dancing and learned of the famed Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a legendary African-American entertainer who taught himself to tap dance after losing a leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of 12. Bates performed twice for the King and Queen of England and became a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show appearing a record 58 times. Inspired by his story, Evan aspired to passing on his legacy. Within eighteen months after the amputation, and only two days after receiving his “peg-leg”, Evan was tapping again.

You can make a donation honoring Evan by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Evan Ruggiero” in the comments section.

Amira Yunis

amira headshot 1Amira Yunis is the daughter of two South American immigrants. She moved from her home in Minnesota to New York City in the mid 1990’s as a young single mother determined to make her mark in the big city.  Amira overcame many obstacles to become a successful Commercial Real Estate broker. Almost two decades into the business, Amira is now a winner of the Real Estate Board of New York’s prestigious Deal of the Year award (2006), Crain’s New York Businesses 40-Under-40 award (2006), New York Moves Power Women (2008 & 2013) and CoStar’s Top Retail Brokers (2007-2013).

Amira’s biggest challenge still lay ahead though – one summer morning in 2012, she woke up in excruciating pain and unable to walk. The following 10 months were filled with scans, tests, doctors and hospitals. As Amira struggled to keep her business running, she also struggled to find the right diagnosis and treatment, since her condition was rapidly deteriorating. Finally after many months and false turns and a few unnecessary surgeries, Amira found the expert advice of Dr. John Healey , who was able to definitively diagnose her with Undifferentiated High Grade Spindal Cell Sarcoma. Although the diagnosis was scary, Amira was relieved to finally know what she was dealing with and she prepared for the fight for her life. She endured  lung surgery, 20 rounds of chemotherapy and a 14 hour limb-salvage surgery performed by Dr. John Healey.  After finishing chemo in late October 2013,  Amira is cancer-free and does physical therapy every day in the hopes that one day she will walk again without any assistance.

Amira is grateful to her husband, family and friends for all their support and prayers over the last 2 years, and hopes that events like this can highlight the challenges that face sarcoma patients in their efforts to find answers.

She is honored to receive this award and supports the vital work of SFA.  Amira’s thanks and gratitude to Dr. John Healey, Dr Gerald Rosen and Adrienne Cacavio, NP at Memorial Sloan Kettering are infinite. She is back to work, not just surviving, but thriving.

You can make a donation honoring Amira by visiting the SFA Gala webpage.  Please enter “Amira Yunis” in the comments section.


To learn more about the SFA Educational Conference and 12th Annual Gala, please visit our website at https://www.curesarcoma.org/events/gala/.