LAKE SUCCESS, NY – Amid the music and their memories, about 2,000 cancer survivors from North Shore University Hospital and LIJ Medical Center and their loved ones gathered under a tent to enjoy the Don Monti Cancer Survivors’ Day held outside the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s headquarters in Lake Success, NY.
Along with North Shore-LIJ President and CEO Michael Dowling; Board Chair Mark Claster, Chairman, and George Raptis, MD , acting executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute, a most-special guest was Caroline Monti Saladino, president of the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation, who was presented with the health system’s Compasssionate Care Award.
After receiving the prestigious award, Mrs. Saladino shared the emotional story of her family’s lifelong commitment to battling cancer. In June 1972, her 16-year-old brother, Don Monti, died at North Shore University Hospital of myeloblastic leukemia.
“Don Monti, or Donni, as we called him, was my brother. My parents were determined not to end his life, so they established the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation one week later,” she said. Looking directly at the audience, she added, “I see faith, hope, lots of love, courage—but most important, I see success. Today is a celebration of Don’s life, my parents’ lives…and it is a celebration of your life.”
Since its inception over 40 years ago, the Don Monti Memorial Foundation has raised tens of millions of dollars in support of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these shattering diseases.
Also on hand to share her experiences was Suzanne Ludlum, a nurse practitioner at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute, who shared her personal reflections on battling breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers. “I would encourage all of you here today, and even those who have just received a diagnosis, to remain positive. Stay informed, seek out resources that will work for you,” she said. “Talk it out. Express your feelings of fear, loss and sadness. But, most important, look for the positive,” she said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Mark Herzlich, a linebacker with the New York Giants, and a survivor of a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing sarcoma. Mr. Herzlich began his remarks by sharing the chain of events that almost robbed him of the thing he loved the most in life. “You choose the thing you love in life…that thing, for me, is football,” he said.
In 2008, when he was 21, Mr. Herzlich described the terrible pain he endured while playing squash with his mother. Various tests revealed nothing, and he returned to college hoping to continue with his studies and his beloved football. Eventually, the pain became so severe that he had to stop playing. His parents were seated in the doctor’s office with him when a doctor presented him with the diagnosis.
“I had the feeling that I had to do something. I told my father that day that I wasn’t going to accept this. I said , ‘I’m going to beat this and play football again.’”
It was then that his father said the three important words that Mr. Herzlich will never forget…”Let’s do this!”
During his remarks, Mr. Herzlich reflected on the skills he had learned as an athlete that enabled him to take on cancer and triumph.
After a grueling course of treatment, Mr. Herzlich remembered another three words spoken by his father as they rejoiced after the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. Thewords were, “We did it!”
In conclusion, Mr. Herzlich told the crowd, “All of you here with me now…we’re all working toward one common goal. We want to be able to say there was cancer but there is no more. We can beat this.”
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