MMRF honors Tom Brokaw, raises $2.6 million at gala

Legendary anchorman Tom Brokaw, himself a multiple myloma sufferer, was honored at the MMRF’s recent and highly successful Fall Gala.

An aura of shared strength, excitement and genuine caring was felt at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich on Nov. 8 as the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) enjoyed its Annual Fall Gala.

The gala honored NBC’s Tom Brokaw, the legendary former nightly news anchorman. Mr. Brokaw is one of thousands of people living with multiple myeloma, the second most common blood cancer, which attacks blood cells in the bone marrow. Though he waited until earlier this year to make his condition public, Mr. Brokaw was diagnosed in August 2013 at the Mayo Clinic. Now, after more than a year of treatment, Mr. Brokaw has reported that he is beating his cancer with the type of treatments that MMRF funds and supports.

MMRF founder and Chairman Kathy Giusti established the organization with her sister Karen Andrews after her own diagnosis 18 years ago. In the time since, the MMRF has raised $250 million for its cause and has been responsible for bringing seven treatments to market for multiple myeloma patients. Nearly 90% of the nonprofit’s total budget is dedicated to research and programming.

“In all of my years working in health care, I’ve never seen a time like this, where so many positive trends are all converging, Ms. Giusti said. “It is beyond explosive, and the MMRF saw this revolution coming. We’ve leveraged every technology, we built new plans and we propelled a brand-new system, a new model, a powerful engine that would lead the way, in a new way of doing cancer research.”

Ms. Giusti has been named an open science champion of change by the White House, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and is on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of all time. The MMRF has enrolled some 2,000 patients in its clinical network, contributing to the world’s largest data set for myeloma patients.

The gala featured an extensive silent auction with a number of rare items, ranging from a Carlos Santana signed guitar to extensive family trips. More than 1,000 guests, including late night icon David Letterman, toured the auction room during the cocktail and hors d’oeuvres hour before the main program, where they were greeted by the evening’s host, NBC Nightly News Correspondent Brian Williams. By the end of the night, the benefit had raised $2.6 million for cancer research.

“We deeply appreciate the participation and partnership of so many prominent industry leaders and supporters who attended the MMRF Gala,” MMRF CEO and President Walter Caprone said in a statement after the event. “Their backing and continuous collaboration will enable us to continue to drive leading-edge research and groundbreaking new treatments until we overcome this disease.”

In addition to Mr. Brokaw, the MMRF honored Janssen Research & Development with its Corporate Chair Award for its contributions to the science of multiple myeloma. Janssen represents the pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson, and was the first organization to write a corporate check for the MMRF. The research company has worked together with MMRF in developing new treatments since that first partnership. Global head William Hait described Janssen’s goal of creating new diagnostic tests that can better determine who is susceptible to multiple myeloma, leading to more effective, personalized treatment.

When Mr. Brokaw informed Mr. Williams of his multiple myeloma diagnosis, Mr. Williams immediately referred him to Ms. Giusti, having already been made aware of her expertise. While Mr. Brokaw had already been briefed on the specific details of his condition, he reached out to Ms. Giusti for the sort of support that can come only from another patient.

“Some days are challenging, because as a patient myself, I can’t help but live, breathe and feel every hope that they have,” Ms. Giusti said. “But I also know that when we are working together, anything, anything is possible.”

Buoyed by the support of his family, medical staff and friends, Mr. Brokaw has been able to effectively battle the disease since his diagnosis. Though there were days where he struggled to get out of bed, he thanked his family for never allowing him to fall into negativity.

“You can never, ever go through something like this without having a richer, more loving, deeper appreciation for the place of your family,” Mr. Brokaw said.

The MMRF is directly responsible for the success stories of many with multiple myeloma, creating hope for those who have received what was once considered a terminal diagnosis. However, the organization is still working to transform the landscape of cancer treatment. MMRF launched its 50th clinical trial this year, and with another 10 planned to open this year, the future is looking brighter and brighter for those living with multiple myeloma.

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