New Castle News

July 25, 2013

Video, Story: Circle of Life to be tribute to Slamon

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — An idea cultivated by New Castle’s Brian Esposito 10 years ago blossomed and soon will result in another planting.

After his mother, JoAnn Esposito, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, Brian founded Par For the Cure, a nonprofit organization that has raised nearly $1 million dollars for UCLA’s Johnson’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is under the direction of Dr. Dennis Slamon, a 1966 graduate of New Castle High School.

Brian’s latest proposal calls for an oak tree to be planted on the grounds in front of the high school and surrounded by a circle of 300 bricks. It will be a tribute to cancer survivors, those who have lost the fight and the man who is leading the way to find a cure.

Slamon is responsible for the development of the drug called Herceptin. His story was told in the 2008 Lifetime TV film Living Proof. Harry Connick, Jr. played the role of Dr. Slamon.

For more than a decade, Slamon and his colleagues conducted laboratory and clinical research that led to the development of the new breast cancer drug.

Slamon returned to New Castle the week of July 4 to visit family, making it possible for him to see the site for the proposed tribute. At a gathering there, he accepted Par For the Cure’s check for $95,000 from its fundraising efforts of last year.

“Usually we go to California to make the presentation or we mail the check,” JoAnn Esposito said. “But this year was really special because we got to hand it to Dr. Slamon in front of his high school.”

The school board recently gave its approval.

JoAnn will meet with the principal and a groundskeeper to select the exact site for the tree. She said bricks that surround the Dr. Dennis Slamon Circle of Life are available for purchase through a donation. They will be installed blank, but once purchased, they will be engraved with “In Honor of” or “In Memory of” cancer victims.

JoAnn said several bricks have already been sold.

Brian said Par For the Cure hopes to raise $30,000 from the bricks with all money going directly to Dr. Slamon’s research. For more information or to purchase a brick, call (724) 658-7927.

Brian noted that Par for The Cure will incur expenses for the dedication.

“Our goal is to make it a simple, yet elegant design that the community can be proud of, while requiring very little to no maintenance.”

Par For the Cure raises money through various activities, including an annual golf tournament in Las Vegas. The tournament draws participants from all over the country. New Castle students also participate with various projects and contests, including the annual King and Queen of Hearts held on or near Valentine’s Day.

In a letter to school officials, Brian expressed these sentiments about the Tree of Life:

“As you know, New Castle has been an extremely giving community as it pertains to my family and our charity, Par for The Cure. I really never grasped how easy it was to turn a negative (my mom’s diagnosis) into a positive.

“But thanks to the community and the New Castle Area School District, we were able to raise a considerable amount of money over the last eight years and help support Dr. Slamon by funding his research which in turn has directly helped keep my mom alive.

“The tree, which will be known as ‘JoAnn’s Tree of Courage,’ will symbolize those that have come before us and those that will come after us that have taken or will take on this brutal disease.

Because of their amazing strength and courage, people like Dr. Slamon will continue to make great advances in the treatment world through clinical trials and research.

This tree will be named after my mom because of her unwillingness to give up and to always move forward. From the moment she was diagnosed, she wanted to help others that were going through the similar treatments. She is as solid as a mighty oak and has come to be a source of comfort for so many in the community that are beginning their battle with cancer.”

Brian said the bricked area that surrounds the Tree of Courage would be known as the Dr. Dennis Slamon Circle of Life.

“Dr. Slamon has made it his life mission to find a cure for cancer with a strong emphasis in breast cancer. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of women have a fighting chance at beating this disease.

“The circle of life symbolizes the efforts of many that have joined in Dr. Slamon’s mission by doing their part. Through donations (both large and small) Dr. Slamon and his team will continue to keep on researching and creating life changing medication.

“The important thing for me is that we create something that can last much longer than any of us and allow the community to reflect on those that have fought and won as well as those that have fought and lost.”

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)