The Crowd: Standing up to fight cancer

There are social events that are all about posturing and community connections. And there are social events that are all about coming together to make a difference for a community purpose.

Last week in Costa Mesa, Circle 1000, in support of The Hoag Cancer Institute, attracted a sold-out breakfast crowd at the Orange County/Costa Mesa Hilton hotel, who were all intent on standing up to cancer.

This 24th annual gathering had nothing to do with fashion or social standing. It had everything to do with survival.

In the Hilton's basement ballroom stood the cancer survivors, some with more than 20 years of life after beating the disease. Others in the crowd, who were still fighting the disease, were surrounded by loved ones — friends and family fighting right alongside the courageous.

Yet despite the seriousness of the morning confab chaired by the dedicated Pame Schmider of Shady Canyon joining underwriting chair Margaret Larkin of Lido Isle, the breakfast was joyful and full of promise and positive energy.

It was in fact the start of a day filled with hope. The crowd gave generously, collecting over $900,000 for the Hoag Cancer Institute.

For more than two decades the men and women of Circle 1000, led by founders Sandy Sewell, Arden Flamson and Ginny Ueberroth, have raised millions of dollars for local donors supporting a multitude of Hoag programs, ranging from nursing care to research to treatment and equipment needs.

Among the mighty are Marge and Jeff Lewis, Jackie Glass, Roger Kirwan, Larry Werner, Tara and Michael Shapiro, Vicki and Jim Warmington, David Pyle, and Marilyn von Klein Smid-Randolph. Also generously supporting the eradication of cancer are Shelley and Phil Belling, Heather Gaughan, Mary O. and James Buckingham, Deborah and Jeff Margolis, Mary V. Buckingham, David Kernan, and Mary and Walter Frome.

Each year organizers invite a special guest speaker to front the event. The list reads like a Who's Who of American culture. Everyone has had a personal story to share.

This year, a young woman named Kelly Corrigan, not a household name like so many of her predecessors at Circle 1000, came to talk about her breast cancer struggle and that of her beloved dad, who developed bladder cancer at the same time she was fighting the disease.

Corrigan — a columnist, writer and a thirty-something mother of two young children — has penned a nonfiction memoir, titled "The Middle Place," which describes her life dealing with cancer, motherhood, husband, work, and caregiving helping her dad.

Corrigan read from her book, written in a seriously self-depreciating humanitarian voice and expressing her challenges in the face of a somewhat dismissive and oblivious world:

"How do you explain cancer to children too young to understand and afraid that mommy is sick?"

Weaving in her lessons learned from a staunch Irish-Catholic upbringing, Corrigan delighted her audience with references to old-world habits and legendary Irish frugality.

Spotted in the crowd were Linda Colton, Karen Littlefair, Gini Robins, Pat and Richard Allen, Lin Auer, Sandra Ayres, Hyla and Richard Bertea, Katie McKay, Carlene Prager, Karen Linden, Vicki Booth, Jacquelyn and Dr. Robert Dillman, Kerry and Dr. Neil Barth, Ann and Dr. Aidan Raney, and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian CEO Dr. Richard Afable and his wife Sally.

"I am so amazed that all of you have come together, raising nearly a million dollars this morning in support of cancer treatment," Corrigan told the crowd.

"Do you know how hard it is today to raise funds for charity without giving away gifts and throwing a lavish party to attract donors? This is the real deal," she added. "You are here to make a difference."

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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