News>Reservists represent wing, disease at celebrity event
Tech. Sgt. Diane Speas and Capt. Jarius Wallace joined celebrities such as country singer and American Idol winner Scotty McCreery at the Jimmy V Gala for Cancer Research in Raleigh, N.C. on Aug. 25. Both Speas and Wallace have dealt with the effects of cancer. (USAF photo by Maj. Shannon Mann, 916ARW/PA)
Meeting Pam Valvano Strasser, Jimmy V's widow, was a highlight for Tech. Sgt. Diane Speas. "Her motto to her audience was "Ordinary people, doing extraordinary things,'" said Speas. "To me, she’s the ordinary person, doing extraordinary things by keeping her former husband’s memory and wishes alive by simply honoring a note from his suit pocket that has created such an esteemed foundation." (USAF photo by Maj. Shannon Mann, 916ARW/PA)
9/5/2012 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- It's a disease that has affected our friends, our families and our co-workers.
Old or young, it doesn't matter. Its stages are insufferable for all involved, and we wait, and we hope and we pray.
It's a horrible word in our vocabulary and it's affected more members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing than you might realize.
On Aug. 25, 2012, a few members of the wing were able to take part in one of the largest charity fundraisers in the nation, the Jimmy V Gala for Cancer Research.
Jim Valvano was a former basketball coach for N.C. State University, until cancer ended his life. For 19 years, his friends, family and supporters have come together in late August to pay tribute to the man by raising money so that cancer research can continue. The Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic takes place in the Raleigh area and a weekend of events surround the tournament.
This year, Capt. Jarius Wallace, 916th Maintenance Group, and Tech. Sgt. Diane Speas, 916th Mission Support Group, were special guests of the event's executive director, Frank McCaan. Wallace, who has been cancer free for six years, attended for the first time as a representative of the wing.
"On the surface, I thought this event was about celebrities and other wealthy people coming together to have a good time and give money to the Jimmy V Foundation. So, I reserved my expectations," said Wallace.
What he experienced was much different.
"The event wasn't about what tax bracket you fell in. It was about 700 individuals coming together for the cause of raising funds for cancer research and continued awareness," he said.
Speas, whose sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34 and whose father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 echoed Wallace's sentiments.
"It wasn't about dining among celebrities for the evening," said Speas. "It was about the dedication and commitment across the entire room from every individual there with one common goal."
This year's Jimmy V touched Wallace and Speas a bit more because it raised money to support the September 11, New York first responders who now suffer from cancer due to the contaminants they were exposed to at the World Trade Centers.
While Wallace was a minority in his mess dress uniform instead of a tuxedo, it did make him stand out in the crowd.
"The military presence was an eye opener for some people, as I found out in conversation," he said. "A lot of what the world sees about military personnel is associated with the war. Most of the coverage hasn't anything to do with cancer. I spoke about my condition and the condition of those I know of in the 916th. Though a small number in the 916th, imagine how much greater the number over the entire Air Force; over all military branches of service."
Speas' sister was on active duty with the Army when she was diagnosed. She has been in remission for seven years, but still struggles with the psychological impact the disease creates.
"She asks why did God put me through this, what did I do wrong...why can't I be my old self again," Speas said.
Speas said there is no good answer and often times finds herself asking why it didn't happen to her instead. "Maybe I would have been a little stronger than her to deal with it."
Speas found out that her night at the Gala, among neighbors, friends, co-workers and supporters helped her realize something. "I know so many people have so many questions about cancer whether you're a battler, a survivor or just a loved one that's a supporter," she said. "I feel the Jimmy V Foundation will find the 'good enough' answer to so many unanswered questions."
Speas talked to her sister about making the annual event a tradition in their lives. "It will allow her to meet others that have and are experiencing what she has been through," she said.
The Gala, held at the Raleigh Convention Center, had entertainment, stories from those suffering from cancer that worked the Trade Centers and from the widow of a first responder who died recently of the disease, celebrities, a silent auction and a public call for donation.
"Do I hear a donation of $10,000?" said the auctioneer-host to the audience.
While Wallace couldn't compete with the generosity of Charles Barkley or Stuart Scott, he did raise his hand to donate a large sum to the cause.
"Never forgetting what I went through, I came with the intent to give. What I didn't know was how much," said Wallace. "So, as I sat there, I asked God to help me decide. I thought of a number and he said not enough. This went back and forth a few times until I reached a number pleasing to him. No amount is too much when your life hangs in the balance. I can only hope that my donation is used to help save a life by finding a cure for cancer."