The Ritz-Carlton Hotel hosted one of the University’s swankiest annual events Saturday night, the Medical Center’s 6th annual black-tie Cancer Gala.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Dr. Rachel Brem and Jeanette Michael were all honored at the ceremony, emceed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Kennedy, however, was not present at the event.
In his opening remarks, Blitzer spoke fondly of his personal connection to GW.
“I love George Washington University and I love the medical school, medical center,” Blitzer said. “I love the hospital because it was here that my beautiful daughter Ilana was born 27 years ago.”
Proceeds from the event benefitted the GW Cancer Institute and the Katzen Cancer Research Center. Individual tickets were sold for $500 each and sponsorship levels began at $5,000. A silent auction before the ceremony included artwork, salon sessions and weekend getaways. A live auction was held after the award ceremony.
Interim Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services Josef Reum awarded Kennedy the Cancer Compassion Award for his longtime championship of health care. Reum noted, to an audible gasp from the audience, that three of Kennedy’s five children are cancer survivors. University President Steven Knapp read a letter from Kennedy thanking the school for honoring him with the award.
Dr. Rachel Brem, director of Breast Imaging and Intervention and professor of radiology at the Medical Center, was honored with the Commitment to Overcoming Cancer Award.
“It feels thrilling to be honored,” she said before the ceremony. “I’m here with my friends, family and people who care about me, so it’s perfect. I’m very thankful to be at an institution that allows me to do the work that I do.”
Brem also spoke of being 12 years old and discovering that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Undoubtedly that experience had more influence on my life then I can even imagine,” she said. “My parents have been unwavering supporters and I’m thrilled that after more than 40 years since my mother’s diagnosis my parents are here tonight.”
The third and final honoree, Jeanette Michael, a member of the Board of Trustees and a seven-year breast cancer survivor, received the Spirit of Life Award. In her speech, Michael noted her optimism despite the fact that eight months ago her cancer had returned and spread dramatically to the rest of her body.
“I get to share the same stage as Wolf Blitzer. Wow, cancer has been good to me!” she joked as she accepted her award.
“Not withstanding the pain and sickness that one must endure in the journey of cancer, I am here to tell you tonight that I am a blessed person,” she said. “I am blessed because I have family and friends here this weekend. I have friends from high school, college and law school who have traveled all over the country to be here.”
Dr. Robert Siegel, chair of the board of directors of the Katzen Cancer Research Center, said the event served as recognition for the members of the GW community leading the fight against cancer through treatment and research.
“Tonight we recognize those folks as well as raise money to hire more cancer researchers,” he said.
A sense of optimism permeated all the speaker’s remarks, with hope for an eventual cure remaining at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“I hope we can work together to make cancer a thing of past,” Brem said.
Dr. Steven Patierno said the night also served as a special celebration for the number of cancer survivors present.
He said, “This is a night to celebrate that they’re here, and they’re alive and well and moving forward.”