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The stage was set. September 28, 2012 marked the 3rd Honoring the Promise Gala by the Susan G Komen for the Cure that took place at the prestigious John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the presence of the crème de la crème of the music, film and television fraternity in Washington DC.
Hollywood stars and breast cancer survivors such as Richard Roundtree, best known as detective ‘John Shaft’ and Jaclyn Smith, best known as ‘Kelly Garrett’ in the iconic television series “Charlie’s Angels” graced the occasion.
They were joined by the Susan G Komen for the Cure’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ambassador Nancy G Brinker, Brinker’s son Eric , Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, US Senator Olympia Snowe, Michigan Congressman Representative John Dingell, Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley.
Others were Susan Ford Bales the youngest and only daughter of former US President Gerald Ford, Country music star Naomi Judd, American Pop and R&B recording artist, songwriter and actress, Jordin Sparks, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA),John Castellani, Grace Bender who is Board Member of the Society for Women’s Health Research and the Sledge Grits Band.
Earlier at exactly 6.00pm, selected invited guests had started arriving at the Kennedy Center North Atrium Foyer and as First Lady Christine Kaseba Sata arrived, she was straight away led by Ms. Wendy Carter (Director of Global Outreach at Susan G Komen) onto the Pink Carpet for a series of photographs in the company of Ambassador Nancy Brinker before a swam of celebrity photographers.
All carefully scripted, the First Lady was then led to a sumptuous dinner by her host, Ambassador Brinker in the company of other high profile celebrities, Administration officials and CEOs. The dinner lasted an hour.
At 7.30 sharp, the Dr. Kaseba Sata was then guided to the Eisenhower Theatre VIP box for the grand introductory remarks marking the official start of the ‘Honoring the Promise Gala.’
Co-survivor and longtime CBS correspondent Bob Schiffer, moderator of CBS “Face the Nation” was emcee of the evening program that raised US$1.5 million for Susan G. Komen’s cancer programs globally.
There was no doubt that the evening was set for continued progress in the global fight against breast cancer.
Bob Schiffer whose mother died of breast cancer and whose wife survived it noted the vast difference between his mother’s experience and his wife’s experience. In his introductory remarks he noted that at the time his mother was diagnosed with the disease, society only spoke about cancer in whispers and that treatment was difficult and survival less likely.
Unlike his mother, he said, his wife was unafraid of cancer and of cancer treatment.
“ Since the 90s, there has been a 33 per cent decline in breast cancer deaths in the USA due in large part to the important work Susan G Komen for Cure has done,” he added emphasizing the importance of education and awareness.
In between speeches by different speakers, the big band orchestra at the foot of the stage played different bridge tunes from Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” to Frank Sinatra’s “The Best Is Yet To Come” and Louis Armstrong “Hello Dolly”
When Ambassador Nancy Brinker took to the stage she spoke about the importance of funding scientific research and how still so much needs to be done and urged the crowd to renew commitments to fight cancer.
She thanked those that had helped to fulfill the promise set in motion 30 years ago when she promised her dying sister, Susan Komen that she would do everything possible in her power to fight the disease that claimed Susan’s life.
Ambassador Brinker founded Komen in 1982 in her sister’s memory. Since then the organization has donated US$2 billion dollars towards research, education, community programs and international assistance.
Later, Hollywood actor Richard Roundtree who is a 19 year breast cancer survivor went on stage to present the Community Distinction Award to the late Maggie Daley wife of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Honorable Daley spoke movingly about his late wife who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and passed away in late 2011 after nine years fighting the disease
It was then time for “Charlie’s Angels” Jaclyn Smith who spoke to the audience about the huge investment of US$2 billion Susan G Komen for the Cure had made in breast cancer research which she said was “second only to the USA Federal government”
Ms Smith said Susan G Komen had granted US$740 million dollars in research with US$58 million dollars given in 2012 alone. She then presented the Scientific And Medical Distinction Award to Umberto Veronesi M.D, an Italian surgeon and oncologist, internationally known for his important contributions spanning over 50 years on prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
Right on time, Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood and country singer Naomi Judd were later to introduce a video that featured comments from the American Ambassador to Zambia, Ambassador Mark Storella and Dr. Groesbeck Parham the Director of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Program Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) commending First Lady of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata for her contribution towards the fight against breast and cervical cancer in Zambia.
After the flight of the video, celebrated country singer Naomi Judd talked about her fight against Hepatitis C and the recent negative breast cancer biopsy. She also talked about the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, an initiative to expand the availability of vital cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment for women at risk in developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America by the George W. Bush Institute,
She went on to say, “In July of this year, Dr. Christine Kaseba welcomed President Bush and Mrs. Bush to Zambia, where together, they inaugurated the African Center of Excellence for Women’s Cancer Control at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka.
Along with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partners, Susan G. Komen is supporting this Center of Excellence to fulfill its mission – to reduce deaths from women’s cancers by raising the standards of care through education, awareness and provides training focusing on primary and secondary prevention and treatment of early stage disease.”
She observed that these collaborative initiatives had already registered significant progress.
“ In December, 2011, less than 500 Zambian women had enrolled at the Center for Cervical Cancer services. By August 2012, that number had risen to an astounding 15,463 Zambian women, many among whom have received life-saving treatment and will, in the near future, receive education as well as services related to breast health.
This dramatic progress, she went on, would not have been possible without the strong commitment of the Zambian government and especially the exemplary personal commitment and leadership of Dr. Kaseba Sata, “ she concluded as called on the First Lady who had already taken position backstage at the Awardee area.
Dr. Kaseba Sata confidently and gracefully walked to the stage escorted by Ambassador Brinker and was presented with the Global Leadership of Excellence Award.
In her acceptance remarks, she first thanked all invited guests graciously for the esteemed Award and noted that the award reinforced her resolve and dedication to rise and ensure that every woman was given the opportunity of access to quality and comprehensive health care and that every woman diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer obtained every chance to fight the disease, recovered and continued to enjoy a long and healthy life thereafter.
“ I accept this award and offer a special salute to all that have contributed to this struggle. In particular, I would like to mention the very hard working men and women from the African Center of Excellence For Breast and Cervical Cancer in Lusaka,” she said.
Amid a loud applause and standing ovation from the crowd, she acknowledged the good work that continues to be done by Dr. Groesbeck Parham, the Director of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Program Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ).
She further went on to thank former US President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush for what she called “bringing hope and smiles to the lives of many Zambians – men, women and children” through their efforts against HIV & AIDS and Cancer care.
“ A special thanks to the partners of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative and my colleagues in the Forum For African Ladies Against Breast and Cervical Cancer,” she went on.
The Forum comprises 12 African First Ladies who are determined to reduce the burden of the disease by raising awareness through education.
Dr. Kaseba Sata also expressed profound gratitude to US President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative and the United Nation Secretary General’s Global Strategy For Women’s and Children’s Health for placing high priority on women’s health.
Towards the end of the one and half minute acceptance remarks she made a special appeal to the gathering and said, “As we leave this place today, we should remember our tasks and opportunities to make a difference in the fight against women’s cancers especially in Africa where breast and cervical cancer is anticipated to decimate a good number of its women.
We need to act rapidly and now. We need to save our future….and that future lies with our women.”
That said and done, Susan Ford Bales and Representative John Dingell on their part presented the Betty Ford Lifetime Achievement Award to Senator Olympia Snowe.
This was followed by a testimony by ‘Charlie’s Angels’ actress Jaclyn Smith who said she was diagnosed with the condition in 2002 after a routine mammogram showed a lump. At that time, she demanded an operation to remove her breast without thinking the decision through.
“ When I heard the news, I panicked…the word cancer is what stood out, a word I never thought I would have in my vocabulary,” she said emotionally
However, the doctor was later to discover that the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes so instead Smith opted for a lumpectomy and eight weeks of radiation therapy.
She also talked about how she had been there for her late friend and co-star in “Charlie’s Angels”, Farrah Fawcett. How Farrah had struggled and ultimately succumbed to the cancer in 2009.
Went on Smith, “ Farrah never gave up. She just had this relentless drive to conquer the disease.” In her closing remarks, Smith urged women to get regular mammograms “because I never felt any lumps before the cancer was detected.”
It was then time for John Castellani to take the stage to thank donors for their generosity and he urged them to continue supporting the important work of the Susan G Komen.
He was followed by the beautiful and talented Jordin Sparks who recently starred alongside with the late Whitney Houston in “Sparkle”.
She sung three songs starting with “Faith”, then “One Step at a Time” and “Celebrate”. The latter was the last song ever recorded with Whitney Houston.
The performance ended with a great and fantastic interactive display of light. All invited guests had been given flashlights upon entering the Eisenhower Theater.
At the end of the program, my take was that the Gala evening had lived to its expectation – funding of scientific research and how much needs to be done in order to end breast and cervical cancer in the world…. a promise made by Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker to her dying sister that she would do everything in her power to end the disease that claimed her sister Susan.
The writer is Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington DC.