By Cynthia Palmieri Chmielewski
The MMRF Annual Gala was held in Old Greenwich, Connecticut on November 8 to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. I could not contain my excitement as my husband and I drove from our home in New Jersey to the event. The drive was surrounded by vibrant colors on a beautiful fall afternoon. This was the first time I was attending the MMRF Gala. I was excited to be meeting in person many of my virtual friends in the myeloma community. I was also excited to be in the company of notable attendees, like Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams and Wynton Marsalis. I even was excited that there wasn’t a major delay crossing the George Washington Bridge. What more could a girl ask for?
The evening began with cocktail hour in an elegant room filled with fanciful items, which were generously donated for the silent auction. There was something there for everyone. Entertainment packages, family get-aways, jewelry, wine and autographed guitars. I personally would have liked to win the VIP Rockefeller Center Tree lighting package, but I was outbid. No problem, that means more research dollars for myeloma being raised.
Over a thousand guests were there, including myeloma patients and their families, celebs and supporters, all of us filing into the immense tent. It was a stunning venue for the evening. Brian Williams was a hysterically funny and entertaining master of ceremonies. I never would have guessed he was such a funny guy. My husband later told me that he hosted Saturday Night Live a few times. He kept us entertained with his stories and humor all night. He could be a stand-up comic.
William N. Halt MD, Ph. D from Janssen Research and Development received the Corporate Leadership Award in recognition of Janssen’s commitment to multiple myeloma patients and its strong partnership with the MMRF. Walter Capone, the CEO and President of the MMRF and Kathy Giusti, Founder and executive chairman of the MMRF, shared remarks about the past, present and future goals of the foundation.
Kathy said, “The MMRF was created by patients and individuals to bring about a meaningful change in cancer research models and we will not stop until cures are found.... Now it's time for us to outsmart cancer. Now it's time for us to find a cure. And we can. We can. Now technology booming. Genomic sequencing is so much more precise and so much less expensive," said Giusti.
The highlight of the evening was when Tom Brokaw, the Spirit of Hope Award recipient, spoke. The Spirit of Hope Award is the highest honor presented by the Foundation in recognition of the extraordinary contributions by the honoree to inspire hope through his or her life work. Tom was sincere and eloquently shared his myeloma patient’s perspective with attendees. Every patient present nodded their heads in agreement as Tom shared his heartfelt story. He told it how it really is. He shared his hopes and his fears. "To put it very lightly, I was blindsided by the diagnosis," said Brokaw “Until I heard those words, I always thought multiple myeloma was one more chapter in Algebra 2 that I somehow missed," joked Brokaw.
Over $2.6 million was raised at the Gala. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the philanthropists at the event. Paddles were raised as donors pledged upwards of $100,000. It seemed to me that almost everyone present made a pledge at some level. All donations for the evening were being matched by Kathy and Bruce Elsey DVM- Click on the link to read their amazing story.
I danced until midnight with many of my myeloma buddies and friends to the sounds of Wynton Marsalis and a New Orleans Jazz Band. I even managed to get a few strands of beads. What an amazing evening, surrounded by amazing, inspiring individuals. I went to bed with a feeling of hope and gratitude.
Cynthia is a patient advocate and mentor, patient services volunteer, myeloma survivor, retired educator, story-teller, and life-long learner. You can find her on Twitter (MyelomaTeacher), Pinterest (Myeloma Teacher), and Facebook (Cynthia Palmieri Chmielewski).
about the author
Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of HealthTree Foundation (formerly Myeloma Crowd).