For a few moments in the massive ballroom in the Westin Memorial City hotel, a chorus of spoken names filled the room. Those names were of dearly departed friends and family members fighting or having lost their lives to cancer, spoken by some 370 guests.
The moving moment was part of the poignant CanCare’s Survivorship Luncheon: Celebrating 30 Years of Hope, held in-person once again after a year off due to the pandemic.
At once charming, tear-jerking, and fun, the event, chaired by Tootsies owners Donna and Norman Lewis, raised a record-breaking $250,000 for the nonprofit’s support of cancer patients, caregivers, and families by providing a cancer survivor as active support.
Positively vibrant and charming, Donna Lewis — joined onstage by Norman — welcomed guests, surprising many with her history as a cancer survivor. That journey sparked her longtime support of CanCare as a passionate volunteer and advocate.
In yet another touching moment, audience members who currently or have battled cancer were asked to stand; a remarkable scene, as a guest or more stood at nearly every table.
Later, emcee Lisa Malosky introduced each honoree: Shelaghmichael Brown, the recipient of the Nancy Tucker Legacy Award; Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church; and a special Sunflower Award for Pat Hogan-Korge.
As Hogan-Korge was unable to attend, Donna Lewis led an impromptu tribute via video, using her phone to record the audience’s thundering applause as they honored Hogan-Korge’s 30 years of service to CanCare. Lewis beamed as she slowly panned her iPhone across the room, capturing the tables and sunflower centerpieces, which symbolize the luncheon theme: hope.
And then came the lighting of candles, as the room was darkened, and guests were asked — one by one — to name a loved one lost to cancer or battling cancer, and then light their candle.
Following the powerful ceremony, Malosky led a chat with guest speaker and cancer survivor, Shawntell McWilliams. The entrepreneur, community leader, and breast cancer survivor serves as managing partner of the popular Trez Art and Wine Bar. Her spot has gained acclaim for its merging of food, cocktails, and wine with art and philanthropy.
McWilliams shared her revealing journey of cancer discovery (she felt the ubiquitous and dreadful lump) just as she was getting married, her treatment, and success, citing her family members — who are in the medical field — for saving her life.
Her tale, one of emotional stress, depression, and suffering but lasting triumph, rang all too familiar with many in the audience — but perfectly summed up the theme of the luncheon: hope against all odds.
Seen: Rev. Alf Halvorson, Leslie and Val Brock, Megan Vondra, Bonnie and David Weekley, Emily Lewis, Hallie Vanderhider, Elizabeth Stein, Ali and Cy Cattan, Fady Armanious, Sippi Khurana, Leigh Smith, Beth Wolff, Barbara and Peter Forbes, Cindy and Buz Jochetz, Nancy and Tommy Tucker, Leisa Holland-Nelson Bowman, Melissa Juneau, Alicia Jansen, Ginger Blanton, Debbie Leighton, and Cristina and Steve Vetrano.