Life is Precious
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I unfortunately know what it’s like to face cancer; I’ve survived a rare form of leukemia and lung cancer. People often ask how I found the strength to tackle this disease twice and the answer is simple—I had excellent medical teams, luck, and a determination to fight. However, what I’ve been through pales in comparison to what my close friend Larry Maclennan endured following his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Larry and I met through mutual friends and immediately bonded over UCONN basketball and other sports and over time, he became like a brother to me. In 2009, Larry and I were playing golf, and he said he wasn’t feeling well. Having just survived my first bout with cancer, I knew how important it was to pay attention when something felt wrong with your body. I convinced him to see a doctor.
Larry was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had already spread to the liver. The life Larry knew was replaced with the reality of facing a life-threatening disease. His family and I were devastated and in shock; one day, he was healthy, playing golf and enjoying his family, and the next day, he was given the worst diagnosis imaginable. I knew pancreatic cancer had no effective long-term treatment options and a terrible five-year survival rate. Larry maintained his positive outlook while he underwent treatment. However, the disease was too advanced, and he passed away approximately nine weeks after he was diagnosed, leaving behind countless loved ones to cope with this heartbreaking loss and find a way to move forward.
I was sad and angry over losing Larry and decided I wanted to both honor him and fight for cancer patients and their families. My focus was on determining the best way to raise funds. I previously played in a golf tournament and the proceeds went to the Lustgarten Foundation. The family had recently established this golf tournament in their loved one’s memory, and they told me about the Lustgarten Foundation and the organization’s commitment to giving 100% of all donations to fuel the most high-risk, high-reward pancreatic cancer research.
My own subsequent research on the Lustgarten Foundation confirmed this information, and in 2010 I organized the Larry Golf Classic to honor Larry’s memory, share his love of the sport, and help his family and friends keep his memory alive. Seventy-five percent of the event proceeds were given to the Lustgarten Foundation to support pancreatic cancer research and the remainder would support the Smilow Cancer Center in our home state of Connecticut, as so many of us have been treated at that hospital. I knew that a golf outing would allow Larry’s loved ones and our West Haven community to celebrate Larry’s life and also honor others who had passed away from other forms of cancer.
Everyone who knows me knows I’m a fighter and I’m incredibly determined, and once I put my mind to something, there is no stopping me. I’m the kind of person who wholeheartedly jumps in with both feet and who selflessly gives my time and energy to the people and the causes that mean the most to me. Larry was definitely one of those people for me. I had helped organize and run other fundraisers so I felt a tournament was the right way to go. I am a lifelong “Westie” and as a lifelong resident of West Haven who grew up and worked within the community, I knew plenty of people and specifically golfers who would play if I asked them to. I reached out to Larry’s family about my idea and Larry’s wife Debbie gratefully told me to proceed. I contacted certain people and asked them to become members of my tournament committee. I was blessed, but not surprised, to find people who were as dedicated to this event as I was. Westies always help others when in need.
In the 13 years since we organized the first Larry Golf Classic, we’ve raised approximately $270,000 (after expenses) for the Lustgarten Foundation’s research program. I am getting older and it’s a grind to run the tournament, but I am not stopping anytime soon! The event is held annually in early October. We average approximately 130 golfers, and after golf, we have an afterparty with raffles, dinner, and the opportunity to come together to honor Larry and others.
Larry’s wife Debbie has helped me with the event planning since the beginning. She is my rock, keeps me on my toes, and makes me make this a successful event. The West Haven Elks Lodge #1537, where Larry and I met and were both members, allowed me to restart their former tournament and name it after Larry. The Elks donate their hall for this post-golfing event to help offset tournament costs. This enables us to keep the price of the event reasonable and raise more funds. In addition to reminiscing about Larry, during my speech I honor other Elks Club members who have recently passed away from cancer. We invite their families so they can experience the comfort of knowing their loved ones also won’t be forgotten.
Being a two-time cancer survivor taught me this: Time is precious. It made me realize I want to spend what’s left of my time on Earth helping others. I don’t want anyone to experience the overwhelming fear, anguish, and uncertainty of any cancer, let alone pancreatic cancer, and the significant physical, mental, emotional, and financial burden of the disease. I am so passionate about the Larry Golf Classic because I believe in both the power of research and in the Lustgarten Foundation’s ability to fund the best studies and clinical trials that will lead to new treatments and a cure for the thousands of pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed annually. I owe it to my dear friend Larry to help make this research a reality.