Celebration for Life: Raising Money for Critical Cancer-Fighting Technologies

Tuckermans and Farrars

(From left) Kathy Farrar, William Farrar, MD, Judy and Steve Tuckerman gather at the 2005 Celebration for Life event.

Celebration for Life, the signature event held annually at Easton Town Center’s Smith & Wollensky, passed the $15 million fundraising mark this past May 16, as the dinner benefiting the OSUCCC – James drew a sell-out crowd in its 14th year.

Thanks to underwriting support from the Easton Community Foundation, 100 percent of event proceeds go to the Technology Acquisition Fund, which purchases state-of-the-art equipment that helps cancer experts at the OSUCCC – James to detect and treat the disease. Technology acquired because of Celebration for Life includes a PET/CT scanner, an Intra-Operative MRI system, a daVinci® Robot that enables minimally invasive surgeries, a mobile digital mammography unit and more.

The most recent purchase—a NextSeq™ 500 Sequencing System from the California-based Illumina company—made the difference in helping Ohio State lure one of the nation’s top hematopathology experts, Daniel Jones, MD, PhD, to the OSUCCC – James. The machine, a fast, flexible, high-capacity desktop gene sequencer, will provide Jones and other researchers with a better understanding of gene mutations, a fundamental cause of cancer.

The groundbreaking capabilities this technology enables would not be possible without support from Celebration for Life. “The equipment that has been purchased literally saves lives,” says Judy Tuckerman, event co-chair since the beginning with husband Steve. “That’s the reason why we do this, and we just hope we can keep raising money so that, as new technologies are discovered, The James will have access to them.”

Starting the Celebration

Judy Tuckerman still becomes almost giddy when recalling the first equipment purchase for the OSUCCC – James that led to the founding of Celebration for Life.

After being successfully treated for breast cancer 18 years ago by the OSUCCC – James’ William Farrar, MD, Judy asked him at that time what he needed to enhance his work. She and Steve were so impressed with Dr. Farrar and the OSUCCC – James that they wanted to give back in some fashion for the excellent care he had provided.

With Farrar’s answer of a $550,000 digital mammography unit firmly in mind, Judy and Steve spoke to their friends Leslie and Abigail Wexner, and John and Ann Wolfe, at an event a couple of days later. They managed to talk each couple into funding half. Judy remembers being so excited when she arrived home that night that Steve had to practically beg her not to call Dr. Farrar with the good news at the late hour.

After a restless night of anticipation, she woke Dr. Farrar with her early morning call. “I said, ‘Go get your machine. You’ve got the money,’” recalls Judy. “I told him the story of how we got it, but he may not have been listening because he was so excited.”

Then, at 9 a.m., the phone rang and it was Les Wexner. He wanted to start an annual fund and connect it to a fundraising event. The Tuckermans took up the challenge, and the excitement from that moment continues to fuel the massive fundraising effort that is Celebration for Life.

“We do this together,” says Judy, nodding toward her husband. “Steve loves doing what he does, and he’s more comfortable asking for money than me.”

“I’m always talking to people about The James,” says Steve, who runs Tuckerman Development Company, a luxury homebuilder in New Albany, Ohio. “I talk to my customers, our friends. And we are very fortunate that we have a lot of the same people return each year, as well as a few new faces.”

In addition to making numerous calls to drum up attendance at Celebration for Life, the Tuckermans host a dinner each January attended by nearly 100 people. The dinner itself is not a fundraising pitch, but a thank-you to those who attended Celebration for Life the previous year and a time to purchase tickets for the next event. While tickets are limited, the event almost always sells out.

A Fitting Tribute

To honor the immense impact that Celebration for Life has had on the detection and treatment of cancer at the OSUCCC – James, the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute boasts the Celebration for Life Conference Center, which encompasses three major conference rooms and a lobby area. The name could not be more fitting.

The Celebration for Life Conference Center serves as the site for world-class conferences with experts from around the globe—including “virtual” guests connected to audiences via the center’s state-of-the-art conferencing technology.

Original artwork of Dale Chihuly, donated by the estate of philanthropist and OSUCCC – James supporter Richard Solove, adorns the space.

The Tuckermans call the conference center, named in honor of their tremendously successful fundraiser, “breathtaking.” But they know there is still much work to do.

“I volunteered during the opening of the new hospital, visiting patients and giving them blankets we’d made and other gifts. And it wasn’t easy,” says Judy. “They are getting wonderful care, the hospital is magnificent, but it’s not like another hospital—there’s no one with a broken leg or having cataract surgery. Every room has a person with cancer.”

The sobering thought is not lost on the Tuckermans, who have faced Judy’s cancer and built something beautiful from the experience: a celebration that will continue to provide life-saving technologies for patients at the OSUCCC – James for years to come.