Kiersten and Bruce Allen were moved by the story of survival told by Dana Bertoch
Childhood cancer robs more young ones of their lives and futures than any other affliction, more than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined.
With the goal of beating this devastating illness in mind, several members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' family attended the Pediatric Cancer Foundation's Breakfast of Hope on Thursday morning. Jon and Cindy Gruden and Bruce and Kiersten Allen, like all of the attendees at the breakfast, were there to raise money and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.
The breakfast was organized to raise funds for the Sunshine Project, an initiative the foundation describes as "uniting the foremost researchers from around the country to fast-track new treatments and increase the survival rate for children battling cancer."
The touching ceremony at the Marriott Waterside Hotel in downtown Tampa featured an introduction from Cindy Gruden, wife of the Bucs' head coach and a community co-chair of the foundation.
After Gruden spoke, three individuals whose lives have been touched by childhood cancer addressed the packed ballroom audience. Anissa Mayhew and Catherine Creek, both mothers of children stricken with cancer, told their heart wrenching stories, and Dana Bertoch, a 20-year-old childhood cancer survivor, shared her all-too-common experiences.
As images of innocent children forced to battle the deadly disease played on large screens on either side of the room, the speakers discussed their individual struggles. Despite the somber topic, all three expressed hope for increased funding, research and treatments that could spare future children and their families some of the pain they had already experienced.
Jon Gruden then took the podium and introduced a very special child – Harris Armstrong, a 12-year-old and avid golfer who has been diagnosed with cancer. Armstrong, one of the top youth golfers in the world, will be the beneficiary of a charity golf tournament put on by the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association to help raise money for his treatment.
However, Armstrong decided to shift the focus of the fundraiser to other children in his situation, and with Jon Gruden by his side, presented a check for over $10,000 to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation that his golf tournament had raised.
Barbara Rebold, the executive director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, then gave some closing remarks, reminding the audience that "there is no greater gift than the gift of hope."
After the event, Jon Gruden took a moment to reflect on why it was important to him to support this particular cause.
"I have some personal background with the fight [against cancer], and I believe in it," Gruden said. "No matter what we all say, cancer is the toughest opponent on all of our schedules. I want to be there for support, certainly, and I want to find a way to beat it.
"To beat anything, you have to do the research, you have to have the funding and you have to have the support. This is a great opportunity to accomplish some of that, but we've got a long way to go."
Kiersten Allen, wife of the Buccaneers' general manager and a community co-chair along with Cindy Gruden, said she came away amazed by the amount of support that the breakfast and the cause had received.
"A couple years ago when Bruce and I first came to Tampa, we were informed of this event," Kiersten Allen said. "The first year that we went, there were 20 tables. If you look around this ballroom now, there are probably 1,000 people here, so it's very exciting to see it grow."
The breakfast raised money through paid seats at the breakfast. In addition, many of the morning's speakers delivered impassioned pleas for further donations that would fund research and treatment for children across the country.
With Jon Gruden's passionate introductory statement – delivered with all the intensity and gusto of one of his pregame speeches – the money should keep on coming.
"I say we all put our hands together and get fired up and find a way to beat cancer!" he exclaimed.