Coaches vs. Cancer: A Media Initiative to Help Fight Cancer

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The media industry is known for its expansive participation in a range of good causes. One such initiative is Coaches vs. Cancer, which, according to Chloe Lipman, Vice President of Community Development at the American Cancer Society, is "a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches that empowers coaches, teams, and the sports marketing and media industry to increase cancer awareness efforts, organize fundraising activities, and support advocacy programs." This collaboration, active since 1993, has raised more than $140 million to support the American Cancer Society's mission to save lives from cancer.

For John Muszynski, Chairman of PMX, the invitation to chair the recent American Cancer Society's annual Coaches vs. Cancer Dinner Benefit in New York was a great opportunity to gather the influential media community and honor his wife, Gail, a cancer survivor.

"Frankly," he began, "I didn't have in-depth knowledge' about Coaches vs. Cancer, but I knew it had been around for 30 years and was an important fundraising benefit for cancer research." The event itself brings together sports figures for an evening that includes panel discussions and personal narratives on their fight against cancer. This year, Gail was selected to be the honoree by John Bogusz, Executive Vice President of Sports Sales for Paramount CBS. She is a media professional with over 20 years of experience at agencies such as Starcom and Leo Burnett and now a yoga instructor and studio owner. Despite a fear of public speaking, especially on such a personal and sensitive subject, "She was absolutely spectacular," Muszynski remarked.

Previous Coaches vs. Cancer benefits have concentrated on college basketball. "They talk about how it relates to the media world and entertainment, but this year was a little different," Muszynski explained. "When I was chatting with the Executive Committee, they kept asking, 'What's Gail's favorite school for basketball?' And I said, guys, I have to be honest with you, she's not a big basketball fan. She's a huge hockey and NFL fan."

As the discussion continued about which coaches could be included in the benefit for the panel, "the fact that Eddie Olcyzk, a former NHL player, former Olympian, just went through a battle with cancer," led the committee to expand beyond college basketball for the event. "The folks from the American Cancer Society had a contact who knew Eddie, and they reached out. The net result was that the evening was less about basketball." Olcyzk's keynote talked about "his experience with cancer and how difficult it was, and he talked about the caregiver and the need to continue to battle this into research and raise funds. It was very, very well received," Muszynski noted. "And then my wife came up, and she shared her entire story. She's been battling cancer for almost 13 years, and she talked about how yoga became a very important part of her treatment plan. It was very inspiring. I can't tell you the number of people that came up to me afterward, talking about how moved they were by her story and how they can relate because they've got somebody in their family with cancer or they went through cancer and talked about the caregiver situation."

Gail's yoga regime began after her first treatment for her cancer in the hospital. It proved to be so therapeutic for her that it led to years of practice, including opening her own yoga studio. More recently, she continues her yoga assisting at a studio close to her home.

Asking people for money is usually challenging, but not for this event, according to Muszynski. "I found this to be easier than you would expect. So many have a personal connection to a loved one or themselves being hit by cancer. That was a motivating factor. Also because of my wife and her personality - she knows a lot of these folks from going to events with me - everybody wanted to hear her story and support her. Everybody was very quick to sign up. I don't think I sent a single follow-up after I sent my first email. It made me feel really good about how our media industry surrounded this event and really got involved."

For Lipman, the real challenge is cancer itself. "Cancer is a complex problem," she admitted, "so it takes a comprehensive approach to make progress. We believe all people should have a fair and just opportunity to live a longer, healthier life free from cancer regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, or where they live." Health equity for her organization means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. "It requires us to eliminate barriers and address needs. People have different circumstances, and because of this, the tools and resources will be different from one person to the next in order to achieve health equity," she added.

In addition to in-person attendance, Muszynski included a video from friends and family in the Midwest. "We live in the Midwest, and a lot of our family and a number of our friends couldn't attend. So, I had a surprise video put together for Gail with well wishes," he explained. As it turned out, that was the biggest challenge he faced in preparing for the event. "It's amazing how so many of our friends and family do not want to get in front of a camera and don't know what to say. But we ended up having a nine-minute video that was wonderful."

This year's benefit set records for attendance and fundraising. "This year we had 32 different companies represented, 340-plus people, and raised over $375,000," he noted. Last year there were 21 tables. This year there were 33. "One of the things that the American Cancer Society organizers shared with me was that, with so many different events for the charity, this was the first time ever that they've experienced a situation where they had to extend the venue for an additional hour because nobody was leaving. And you know, in most of these functions, they serve dinner and you turn around, and everybody's gone. Nobody sticks around. But we got out of there close to 11 pm. So, all in all, very successful," he added.

For Lipman, her organization is on the front lines. "For 110 years, the American Cancer Society has been a leader in the fight against cancer. More people are surviving cancer than ever before, but there is still work to be done to fulfill our vision of ending cancer as we know it, for everyone," she concluded.

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