Shannon Miller, Olympic gold-medal gymnast, enjoys many titles in her life – wife, mother, and most decorated gymnast in American history. But one title she never thought she would have is that of “cancer survivor,” she told the crowd of 800 people on Friday night (June 12) at the 22nd annual Cancer Challenge gala.
Miller, the keynote speaker for the evening, shared her story of being diagnosed with a malignant germ cell tumor, a rare form of ovarian cancer, in January 2011. She had the baseball-sized tumor removed successfully and, after aggressive chemotherapy, is cancer-free.
Miller encouraged guests at the gala, held at the NWA Convention Center in Springdale, to donate to the Cancer Challenge.
“With your donation you are helping someone have a better life and a better prognosis and, hopefully, helping someone avoid a diagnosis altogether,” she said.
The gala was part of a three-day Cancer Challenge event that included tennis, trap shooting, golf and competitive and fun runs and walks, and was expected to raise $1 million for local charities, according to Ronny Cerniga, development coordinator for the Cancer Challenge.
“Our main mission or goal is to make sure that someday the best world class cancer services are available in Northwest Arkansas and that it is accessible to all of our friends and neighbors in Northwest Arkansas,” Cerniga said. “Over the course of the last 22 years, the charity has raised over $10 million and that money goes right back to Northwest Arkansas.”
Grant recipients for 2015, announced at the gala, are Circle of Life Hospice, Community Clinic, Hope Cancer Resources, Mercy Health Foundation of NWA, NWA Mercy Family YMCA, UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and the Washington Regional Cancer Support Home.
Dr. Eric Schaefer, Cancer Challenge board member and medical oncologist, told the crowd that because of their donations, he believes that the phrase, “I beat cancer” will become much more common. He also shared the stories of three of his patients who were directly helped by the agencies supported by the Cancer Challenge.
During the evening, the “Tina Waggener Distinguished Leadership Award” was given to board member Jeff Brazzeal for almost 20 years of service to the Cancer Challenge.
Guests were encouraged to wear their favorite sports colors, jerseys and hats to the event, which had an all-start tailgate theme. During the evening they enjoyed dinner, drinks, a Sports Illustrated photo booth. An after party was sponsored by Hershey’s and included dancing to the music of Ultra Suede and a s’mores bar.
Live auction items featured a $3,000 Overstreet’s jewelry shopping spree, a fall foliage vacation to the coast of Maine, a Saint Louis Cardinals fan experience and a one-week stay at a chateau in the rural Brittany region of western France. Silent auction items included a kayak, Keurig coffee makers, Woodland Photography gift certificate worth $1,500, a Jump Zone party pack for 10 kids, a 46” LED television, and a $100 gift certificate to Massage Envy.
Presenting sponsors for the event were Walmart, Sam’s Club, Tyson Foods, American Greetings, Highland Oncology Group, Otis Technology and Heineken.