“Let’s see more smiles, more singing, more silliness and more survivors.” This directive is found on the website of the Steven Vanover Foundation.
Steven Vanover was 24 when he passed away on March 12, 2015, from a rare form of sarcoma. He battled DSRCT, desmoplastic small round cell tumor, for 15 months at Norton Cancer Institute but never lost his own ability to smile, sing and be silly.
Two months later, friends and family got together to start a scholarship in Steven’s honor at the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering. The effort quickly grew into a full-fledged nonprofit foundation with a 15-member board of directors and dozens of volunteers, all of whom are supporting efforts to eliminate sarcoma, an uncommon type of cancer that starts in bones or connective tissues.
“We’re here to make a difference in the world of sarcoma through community engagement and fundraising,” says SVF board president Lauren Raque. She was Steven’s fiancée.
To fund two major projects at Norton Healthcare and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the SVF has created the inaugural “Flights to Fight Cancer.” The fundraiser takes place in February at Mellwood Art and Entertainment Center will feature flights of craft beer, bourbon and wine. Beverage flights will also be accompanied by flights of food, to showcase the culinary talents of multiple local partners who are creating appetizers, main courses and desserts. There will also be live and silent auctions, a bourbon pull and dancing during the evening.
“As we’ve grown our impact and commitments, we knew it was time to throw an even larger event that could unite the Louisville community around the cause,” Lauren says.
Flights of food and beverage mean gala-goers will have options, which is a core value of the Steven Vanover Foundation. “Just as we want to raise money so that cancer patients can have treatment options and the option to get great care close to home, we want our guests to have options as well,” says Lauren.
The Flights to Fight Cancer gala will provide funding for sarcoma patients in a couple of different ways. One is in Louisville, where the Steven Vanover Foundation has gifted a $250,000 genomics lab technology to Norton Cancer Institute. This in-house technology, “Next Generation Sequencing,” means physicians are getting faster lab results to help them determine personalized treatment options for patients.
At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the Steven Vanover Foundation has donated more than $300,000 to support a clinical trial led by Shakeel Modak, M.D., one of the only trials in the world studying treatments for the type of DSRCT sarcoma Steven had. More research funds are needed, of course.
Lauren’s sister, Krissy Raque, is also on the board of directors and has been involved with the organization from the beginning. “To me, the Steven Vanover Foundation is providing hope our community and in our country,” Krissy says. “It’s the hope that no one with sarcoma or another rare cancer has to hear the words “we’ve run out of options.” It’s hope that a sarcoma diagnosis doesn’t mean that a young person has to travel far away to get the care they need. And it’s remembering Steven’s enthusiasm for life that drives us to approach this work with a sense of hope.”
Steven Vanover survived just over two weeks after being told that there were no more options for treatment. “In those final 16 days, we realized that we needed to carry on the grace that he showed during his battle with DSRCT,” Lauren says. “To see someone you love go through a disease with virtually no treatment options is heartbreaking. Our goal has been to help those who have been affected by cancer, and make sure they never have to hear those same words Steven heard on February 25, 2015. If we can prevent this 16-day stint for others, we would be thrilled. We would be thrilled to say that we lived out the same grace that Steven showed in his final days.”
IF YOU GO
Flights to Fight Cancer (cocktail attire)
Saturday, Feb. 15, 5:30-11 p.m.
Mellwood Art and Entertainment Center
Tickets are $100 per person or $1,000 for a Friends of Steven table of 8, available at FlightsToFightCancer.org
Donations to the Steven Vanover Foundation are gratefully accepted 24/7 at stevenvanover.org.