At 36th Annual Lombardi Gala, Friends Help Push Boundaries

Laurie Lapeyere speaks to a full ballroom from a podium onstage
Nearly 500 supporters of Georgetown Lombardi gathered at The Anthem at The Wharf in DC for the 36th annual Lombardi Gala, the cancer center's largest continuous fundraising event.

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(May 3, 2024) — A community of nearly 500 new and longtime friends donned gowns and black ties for the 36th annual Lombardi Gala, the largest continuous fundraising event for Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Weiner speaks at a podium
Louis M. Weiner, MD

The April 27 event, held at The Anthem in Washington, raised more than $1.25 million through corporate sponsorships, tickets sales and a silent auction to support research at Washington’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.

Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Georgetown Lombardi, expressed his gratitude as he welcomed attendees and shared why their philanthropic support is so critical to Georgetown Lombardi.

President DeGioia speaks from a podium
John J. DeGioia

“It allows us to pursue the early leads and promising science that will one day lead to a cure for cancer,” he said. “Bold ambitions are a daily part of our conversation — big, forward-thinking ideas that stretch the imagination and fuel our ability to help cancer patients everywhere. Your support allows us to push those boundaries, explore the unknown and bring hope to those who thought that all was lost.”

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia recognized the people at Georgetown Lombardi for their dedication to the community, research and patient care.

“Since 1970, Georgetown Lombardi has defined excellence in cancer research,” he said. “Over the years, our clinicians and researchers have brought together three elements: high-impact research, community outreach and engagement, and patient-centered cancer care. Everything they do is aimed at preventing, treating and curing cancer, and ensuring that this care reaches those who need it most.”

The Power of Lombardi Care

In one of the most compelling moments of the evening, attendees met Jaime Posada, who at age 58 was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Posada said his doctor concluded there was nothing that could be done, and he was given two to six months to live.

The Posada family
Jaime Posada and wife Lourdes (pictured center), and family

“He’s an athlete. That reality is shocking,” said Posada’s wife, Lourdes.

“We knew that we couldn’t just take the answer,” recalled daughter Katalina.

Posada and his family turned to Georgetown Lombardi and Stephen Liu, MD, director of thoracic oncology and head of developmental therapeutics.

“When we look at the old days of treating lung cancer, we would give chemotherapy,” explained Liu. “The reality is, chemotherapy in a patient with advanced lung cancer will work 15% of the time. Whereas if I find a specific alteration [in the tumor], I can prescribe targeted therapies that have an 80% to 90% chance of working. And that takes advanced testing that we’re able to do very quickly [at Lombardi].”

Posada’s tumor had a gene mutation called ALK, a finding that meant he could receive targeted therapy.

“I ran down the hall like I won the lottery,” Lourdes recalled.

“Being able to be with my daughters and grandson … those moments are the best things in my life,” Posada said. “I have cancer, but I’m happy that I have Lombardi. It allowed us to get the latest testing, the latest treatments. And I am here. It’s been over seven years and I want to enjoy every day to the max.”

Duo Celebrated for Support

Four individuals stand on a stage
Scott LaGanga (far l) and Tim Lawrence (far r) accepted the Margaret L. Hodges Award from Laurie Hodges Lapeyre and Louis Weiner, MD.

This year, two Georgetown Lombardi supporters, Scott LaGanga and Tim Lawrence, were celebrated with the annual Margaret L. Hodges Award, named for the gala’s founder. The distinction pays tribute to sustained contributions of time, energy, financial resources and leadership at Georgetown Lombardi.

Motivated by the swift and profound loss of his father-in-law to an upper GI cancer, LaGanga and friend Lawrence teamed up to launch the Ruesch Center Classic Golf Tournament. Since its inception in 2017, the tournament has raised more than $1.5 million for gastrointestinal cancer research at the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers at Georgetown Lombardi.

“Lombardi thrives because of friends like Scott and Tim and their continued dedication to this annual event,” said Laurie Hodges Lapeyre, Margaret Hodges’s daughter and a cancer survivor. “We are grateful for their extraordinary commitment of time, leadership and philanthropic support to help advance Lombardi’s mission of finding a cure for cancer.”

“We’re both really honored and humbled by an opportunity like this and to be recognized,” LaGanga said. He shared that he lost a family member to GI cancer only six months after being diagnosed.

“For anyone who has lost a loved one to that experience, it really does drive you to know that you need to do more yourself in order to help others and really encourage the progress to fight cancer. You want to ensure that no family goes through that. And that really has been the driving force for what Tim and I have brought to this.”

Lawrence echoed the appreciation for the honor.

“I’d like to say a special thank you to Scott and his wife, Ashley, because seven years ago Scott asked me to be his wingman on this journey and I didn’t have a personal connection to the cause, but I do now. Their cause became my cause,” Lawrence said.

Friends Honored

The Director’s Champion in Research Award, which celebrates those who go above and beyond in their support of the fight to end cancer, was presented to two stalwarts in the cancer advocacy community — Ellen Sigal, PhD, and Marlene Malek, RN.

Three people stand a stage
(From right) Marlene Malek, RN, and Ellen Sigal, PhD, received the Director’s Champion in Research Award.

Sigal is the founder of Friends of Cancer Research (Friends) and chairs its board of directors. Malek serves as the board’s vice chair. Friends, a think tank and advocacy organization, has helped define the importance of collaborations across the cancer ecosystem to drive the approval of lifesaving new drugs.

“Ellen’s passion for this work has led to remarkable progress and has redefined the importance of advocacy in cancer research and care,” Weiner said. “Marlene is a former oncology nurse here at Georgetown whose effectiveness on behalf of cancer patients is inspirational. I’m so very pleased to recognize their incredible contributions that ultimately impact patients … around the world.”

“As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Washington, Lombardi is vital to our community,” Malek said. “However, the work at Lombardi is truly transforming oncology care not only here, but all across the country.”

Malek said it was the loss of family and friends that, for her, was devastating but also motivating. “I was determined to do something to make a difference,” she said. The experience led her to become a nurse at Georgetown working with cancer patients and then to join forces with Sigal at Friends.

“I want to thank Lou Weiner and the enormous team at Lombardi — it’s incredible the work that you do and how you serve patients,” Sigal said.

“I don’t know if you understand what a comprehensive cancer center means, but it’s quite a feat,” she added. “You are selected by the National Cancer Institute and you have very strict criteria. So when you go to Lombardi, you are getting personalized care, you’re getting the best treatment, and the best options,” she said.

Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza
Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza, PhD

Potter Award

Recipients of the 2024 John F. Potter, MD, Award were also recognized: Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza, PhD, and Sreejith Nair, PhD.

Sreejith Nair
Sreejith Nair, PhD

The Potter Award recognizes the achievements of rising star researchers who are moving the needle of progress forward through innovation and persistence.

Hurtado de Mendoza, an assistant professor of oncology, studies ways to reduce breast cancer disparities in underserved ethnically and racially diverse populations including Latina immigrants and African American women. Nair, also an assistant professor, and his lab study cellular processes that result in cancer, endocrine dysfunctions and other disease states.

Stepping Up

This year’s Gala co-chairs, Bud and Kelley Hawk, and Cindy and Mitchell Stark, DDS, have been longstanding supporters of Georgetown Lombardi.

“We have been supporting Lombardi for over 15 years, and this was our year to step up to the plate,” Bud Hawk said. “We felt that success would be achieved if everyone here tonight leaves with a warm, positive feeling of the impact all of us have on the Lombardi Cancer Center.”

Four people stand on a stage, one speaks from a podium
(From left) Gala co-chairs Kelley and Bud Hawk and Cindy and Mitchell Stark, DDS

Cindy Stark explained her motivation to help with the gala.

“I wouldn’t be standing up here if it wasn’t for a friend … diagnosed with lymphoma,” she said. “His diagnosis made me really think, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’”

But I don’t have ‘deep pockets.’ There are other things you can do to support.

“Nothing is too little and nothing is too much,” she added.

In October 2022, her husband, Mitch Stark, a lymphoma survivor, rang the bell at Georgetown Lombardi — a custom for patients marking the end of cancer treatment.

“My experience with Lombardi was nothing but positive,” he said. “I can confirm the nursing care at Georgetown is by far the most superior nursing care.

“Hopefully, none of you will need the care that Lombardi provides, but if you do, it’s comforting to know that Lombardi is in our own backyard,” he concluded.