First, breast cancer took her mother. Then, lung cancer took a friend’s mother. And within a year, another loss to breast cancer—a good friend and mother of two young children whose husband had died two years earlier from a heart attack. Fifteen years ago, cancer casualties were mounting around Mary Jo Bramson. "It was just not making sense. None of it was making sense to me," Mary Jo said in a conversation this spring with the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). The mother of three, who lives in Briarcliff Manor, New York, resolved to do something about it.
Mary Jo turned to her community—and a close powerhouse of her friends."We just said, ‘We need to do something to make us feel better about what is going on in people’s lives,’ and so we started a fundraiser. We looked for an organization that was not just focused on breast cancer, but that was focused on cancer in general, because we’d had people die of different types of cancer amongst our friends and family."
As she researched worthy cancer charities, Mary Jo was introduced to CRI by a friend of a friend—who happened to be the son of CRI co-founder Oliver Grace. She appreciated that the research programs spanned cancer types and that CRI kept administration costs relatively low. "The money raised actually goes to research, as opposed to administration. And that was important." For 10 years, Mary Jo and her friends organized the Libby Bartnick Memorial Fundraiser, named for the friend and mother who had passed away from breast cancer. In all, the events raised over $687,000 in support of CRI.
Though Mary Jo and her friends decided to stop hosting the fundraiser several years ago ("It just got to be too much"), she and her husband, Oren, are still dedicated supporters of the Cancer Research Institute. They appreciate how far the organization has come in the quest to conquer cancer. "I think back to when I first read about you, immunology research in cancer was relatively unknown. And now everything you read and almost all the breakthroughs are all based on a lot of the stuff that I’m hoping some of our money went to." She added, "There’s a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way. You just have to keep at it."
We certainly plan to.