I’m continually surprised by some of the things that I read on social media sites these days, but none quite like this. It was a status update from the late Spencer Bell’s father, Bill who had some of the most incredible news relating to adrenal cancer research.
To give some background on what this status update entailed, let me first tell the story of Diana Hart.
Diana’s mother Fran Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. As a result of that, it became Diana’s mission to help fund and propel research in finding a cure for this disease. She became actively involved as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society in Connecticut. Two people she met along the way were Jim Calhoun, who battled cancer personally and Geno Auriemma, who lost his father to cancer. Both were basketball coaches at the University of Connecticut. Also worth noting is that Geno is the coach with the longest winning streak in basketball history. He is also in the Basketball Hall of Fame and is on board as the USA Women’s Basketball Team Coach for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
After three years of the trio working together, they decided to team up with the Jimmy V Foundation who raises funds and 100% of the fundraising dollars going directly to cancer research. Diana teamed up with a group of seven other women and through their awesome dedication to fundraising and support of each other, they collectively raised $3.5 million dollars.
It was in May of 2010 that Diana’s life changed drastically. Her only brother Derrick, at the age of 47 ended up in the hospital with extreme stomach pains. Just as the story of Spencer Bell goes, they found a 6.7 cm mass on his adrenal gland. The next course of action was decided by the Smilow Cancer Center and Dr. Udelsman proceeded to remove Derrick’s tumor. It was after the removal that they confirmed it was Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma, Stage 2. ACC is an extremely rare and untreatable cancer. Diana like many of us, could not stay away from researching everything she could when her love one was diagnosed with this life threatening disease.
Diana’s research led her to bumping into Dr. Gary Hammer and his research with the University of Michigan in the field of ACC (adrenal cancer). His exceptional bedside manner and large heart convinced Diana and her brother that they should never lose hope, that Derrick’s life was worth fighting for and living against all odds. Diana was completely and utterly inspired, and from that moment on, her focus has been on fundraising to help propel Dr. Hammer’s research in what is a severely underfunded cause.
Diana’s first major fundraiser was a Valentine’s Day “A Hart’s Desire to Cure Adrenal Cancer.” Geno Auriemma and his wife Kathy were the first donors at the event and graciously donated $5,000 to the cause. In total, the event raised $87,000 for adrenal cancer research at the University of Michigan. And additional event that occurred during this fundraiser, was when a live auction item went off featuring a trip to Alaska. This trip was donated by Anna and Mike Rabe and the significance of this was that Mike is a patient of Dr. Hammer’s. Derrick ended up winning the trip and was able to take his best friend along for the adventure of the lifetime. While on their trip, they met up with the Rabe’s and the Hammer’s to truly something worth remembering forever.
On 11-11-11, a significant day in numbers as well, Geno, Kathy and Diana hosted a dinner party for a group of forty high donor friends of theirs. The night boasted many interactions which included a new patient which was referred to Dr. Hammer, a gentleman who had lost his wife to ACC in June at the age of 29, and the donation sum of $74,000. Two amazing trips were auctioned off during the night which included a trip to the 2012 Olympics and a secret trip donated by the Auriemma’s.
Bill Bell posted a status update on Facebook about the 11-11-11 fundraiser hosted by Diana, and how in conjunction with all the other fundraising taking place, created one of the largest milestones to date in the field of adrenal cancer. Much in part due to the funds raised by Diana and the Auriemma’s, adrenal cancer research is now moving full steam ahead. Dr. Hammer has already collected 111 tissue samples of his patients and is now ready with the help of some newly hired help, can start to map the genome for this disease.
What a wonderful way to turn life’s pain into a way to create our own destiny!
Note- We did speak with Diana as we were writing this letter and she announced that Hart’s Desire has pledged $1,000,000. In addition, she has helped to form the Tri-State Alliance for ACC whose first meeting will including six ACC patients and one who lost his wife in December.