Heroes in our midst

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Luis Diaz, M.D., Lynn Jacobson, Ambassador Brenda Johnson, Gigi Benson, Ursula Striker, Diana Feldman, Lucia Corral, Arlene Weidberg, Marie Crouch, Delia Ephron, and Jonathan LaPook at American Cancer Society's Heroes of the Year Luncheon at the Rooftop Ballroom of the St. Regis.

Thursday, October 20, 2022. A little colder but mild and sunny yesterday in New York. The social scene is returning to its usual crowd gathering activity in the philanthropic world. This is the season before the upcoming holidays, when major annual fundraisers are occurring. Down on black & white print, these events don’t have much allure, but in fact, in person, they are often fascinating, highly entertaining, stimulating and even comforting in the mental sense.

Benefit Chair, Diana Feldman.

This past Monday The American Cancer Society held their annual lunch on the St. Regis Roof. I’ve been attending for many of them, invited by my friend Diana Feldman who for years has been very active in the Women’s Committee for this luncheon. Up until this year it’s always been staged as a Ladies Lunch honoring Mothers (of the year).

They always honored philanthropic leaders, who are invested in their communities’ health and the future of scientific breakthroughs and cancer research. Since its inception, the luncheon has raised more than $5.5 million for patient services and research. So it was interesting to this attendee, something to learn as well as even with a good laugh interspersed.

This year’s lunch was titled Heroes of the Year Luncheon. Not heroines, although they play a big big part in the story.  The honorees were Luis Alberto Diaz Jr., M.D. and Delia Ephron.

Professor of Medicine and director of the Clinical and Translational Leukemia Program at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Gail Roboz, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, NYU Langone Health, Jonathan LaPook.

Dr. Diaz is a distinguished oncologist and scientist who leads the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. His team also discovered the therapeutic link between immunotherapy and cancer genetics in patients with mismatch repair deficient tumors. This research led to the historic first pan-tumor FDA approval for any solid tumors with this genetic lesion. It is the first cancer study that resulted in a 100% complete response rate.

Honorees Delia Ephron and Luis Diaz, M.D.
Delia Ephron and Gail Roboz, M.D.

Delia Ephron, as if you didn’t know, is a bestselling author, screenwriter, essayist, playwright. And cancer survivor. She is very productive, authoring novels such as Siracusa and The Lion Is In as well as novels for adults and teenagers, including How to Eat Like a Child. Her movie credits include You’ve Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; and a play, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which was written with her sister Nora Ephron.

Her recent memoir, Left on Tenth, A Second Chance at Life, is a seesaw of her personal journey from pain of loss of her sister Nora, and husband Jerry, both to cancer, to the joy of new-found love late in life, to her own diagnosis of leukemia.

Lynn Jacobson, Ambassador Brenda Johnson, Gigi Benson, Ursula Striker, Diana Feldman, Lucia Corral, and Marie Crouch.
Stacey Case and Jonathan LaPook.
Adrienne Vittadini.

The long and the short: Dr. Diaz and his team discovered a first. Delia Ephron experienced and told the story of experiencing the results of their work. Stefanie Joho, a former patient of Dr. Diaz, related her story of being diagnosed and found herself being miraculously cured by the same process.

Luis Diaz, M.D. and Stefanie Joho.

As I relate listening to the general details I could only think of being in that room at the top of the St. Regis and hearing the news that is almost shockingly miraculous. It also reminded me of something we can easily forget in this world of ours these days: it can be done.

Photographs by Eric Vitale Photography

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