The glamorous Breast Cancer Gala Dinner, held Saturday night at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, celebrated local breast cancer survivors and raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities working to prevent and treat the disease that affects millions of people every year.
Women clad in their glitziest gowns and men sporting pink bow ties enjoyed the annual affair, which included a dinner, silent and live auctions, an inspirational speech by the keynote speaker Joan Lunden, an American broadcast journalist and breast cancer survivor, and a performance by American musical group Figaro. Pinnacle Media’s own Vicki Wheaton dazzled with her own vocal performance of Tina Turner’s hit song “Simply the Best” and kept the audience rolling in laughter as emcee throughout the evening.
“Tonight really is about celebrating the breast cancer survivors,” said Kim Lund, Breast Cancer Foundation director.
The event began in 2008 as a special way for Mr. Lund to honor his wife, Brenda Tibbetts Lund, who had passed away after a courageous battle with breast cancer 10 years earlier, and to carry on her work in raising awareness about the disease. Although it was intended to be a one-time event, it has become one of the most successful annual events in the Cayman Islands. This year’s gala was once again sold out and the ballroom filled to capacity.
“At some point in time, I hope we never have to have an event like this again,” Mr. Lund said, but he vowed that as long as it is needed, and until there is a cure, the Breast Cancer Foundation will continue its work.
One of the most powerful moments of the evening proved just how many lives have been touched by breast cancer. When Mr. Lund and fellow Breast Cancer Foundation Director James Bovell asked the audience to stand up if they knew someone who had fought breast cancer, the room was suddenly filled with empty chairs.
The directors also took a moment to recognize event organizer and breast cancer survivor Heather McLaughlin. This year’s event marks Ms. McLaughlin’s final year as organizer.
“It’s been very fulfilling,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “I’m amazed at the incredible support of the community. They’re all wonderful people. We could not have done this without them and I hope they continue to support this cause.”
Ms. McLaughlin said that while it will take some time to tally the amount of money raised by the event, the live auction alone raised more than $90,000. Items with the highest bids included a dinner for eight at the governor’s residence, which went for $20,000, and two fishing trips with Guy Harvey, which went for $10,000 each.
In addition to raising money, the event raised awareness about the disease. Video interviews with two male breast cancer survivors shed light on the fact that the disease does not just strike women, but also highlighted how the disease is not necessarily a death sentence as many people think when they hear the word “cancer.”
Keynote speaker Ms. Lunden shared her life story and personal battle with breast cancer. The former host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the cancer in 2014. She is now cancer-free and has published a candid book about her experiences with the disease titled “Had I Known.”
Breast cancer, Ms. Lunden said, “wasn’t on my radar because I didn’t have it in my family.” However, after being diagnosed, she learned that fewer than 15 percent of women diagnosed with the disease have a family history of it.
She also stressed that sometimes tests beyond mammograms are necessary to determine whether cancer exists. In her case, cancer was not revealed until she had an ultrasound because she has high-density breast tissue. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, women with such high density are four to five times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low density, but mammograms of dense breasts can be very difficult to read.
Ms. Lunden hopes that by sharing her story she can “empower people, to motivate them to take better care of their health” and to “just give them hope, because I’m still here talking to you.”
In fact, the evening was filled with hope, and the late Mrs. Tibbetts Lund’s vision of spreading awareness of the disease continues to be very much alive with this event and others.
Ms. McLaughlin said there are still a number of unclaimed auction items, and that guests who won an item and need to pay should contact the Breast Cancer Foundation at 949-3542 or come to the office at RE/MAX Cayman Islands 7 Mile Shops.