You’d be hard pressed to find someone whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way. Fortunately for those of us who call the greater Baton Rouge area home, we have two amazing organizations that offer hope and comfort to cancer patients and their families — Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge. And, both of them were in a celebratory mood recently.

‘Celebrate Courage’

That was the theme for Mary Bird’s Sept. 13 open house celebrating the newly transformed center. A special VIP reception and champagne toast with members of the Rathbone Society kicked off the event. The $23 million investment will provide some 3,000 patients with next-generation technology; a significantly larger, specialized medical team; and key support services, along with many other vital resources required to fight cancer.

The transformation also included major changes to the center itself, increasing the total outpatient area of the center from 120,000 to 140,000 square feet, with 90 percent of the building dedicated to patient care activities.

“On our path to become a destination cancer center, we looked closely at patient preferences — convenience and accessibility, specialized symptom management, a single point of contact for patients and advanced multidisciplinary care. And we’ve wrapped all of this and much more into an attractive building that is personal, welcoming and state-of-the-art,” said CEO Todd Stevens.

In my brief tour, I couldn’t help but notice several familiar names of those who helped make this dream a reality — the late TJ Moran; Louis Curet, in memory of his late wife, Jean Harvey Curet; and the family of the late Gerry Lane. Privileged to know them all, I couldn’t help but smile knowing how happy and proud they would be at having their memories honored in such a way. I was also touched by the Bell of Hope, which can be rung by patients who’ve completed their chemotherapy. It was named by the nurses who’ll be caring for those patients in the new infusion therapy area that boasts 56 relaxing, heated chairs with their very own TV/computers as well as two private rooms, three actual bedrooms, nutrition stations and a full-service oncology pharmacy.

Taking part in the program along with Stevens were Sister Barbara Arceneaux, provincial of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady; Terrie Sterling, COO of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center; Dr. Daniel Nuss, chairman of the Head & Neck Multidisciplinary Care Team; and Linda Lee, center administrator.

Capital Chefs’ Showcase

Four days earlier, Cancer Services hosted its 33rd annual Capital Chefs’ Showcase at the River Center. Graciously serving again as honorary chairmen for the evening were LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and wife Karen.

The coach was joined by Bite & Booze’s Jay Ducote, fresh off his “Food Network Star” competition, and auctioneer Brian Fourroux in conducting a lively live auction. The night’s biggie — “Cheers to the Tigers with the Mainieris.” What started out as one item was doubled by coach to add $11,000 to Cancer Services’ coffers and put big smiles on the faces of winning bidders Layne McDaniel and Keith Gibson. Dinner in chicken guru Todd Graves’ tree house brought in $4,000 and Christmas in Colorado brought in $5,750.

As the granddaddy of chef events in the Capital City, this event remains one of the hottest tickets in town. My “date” Melanie Uzee and I enjoyed visiting with Debbie and John Daniel, Whitney Vann and Robert Schneckenberger, Mimi and Guy Riché, Ann Guercio and daughter Merritt, Kathy and Bill Hounshell, Marvin Borgmeyer, Phyllis McLaurin, Jane Morton, Erin Guerin and mom Charlotte Guerin, Bobby Bernard and Eddie Sims, Jimmy Distefano, Andrew Engolio, Mary Jane Howell, Roy Powell Davis, Gail O’Quin, Josh Howard, Ben LeBlanc, Jayne Anderson, J.H. and Pat Martin, Kendall Hebert, Ralph Stevens, Mayor Kip Holden and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and wife Cathy.

We also loved sampling the culinary offerings served up by Mary Aycock, Baton Rouge General, Beausoleil Restaurant & Bar, Bin 77 Bistro & Wine, Café Americain, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Cheesecake Bistro, Chef Don Bergeron Enterprises, Copeland’s of New Orleans, Drusilla Seafood, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Galatoire’s Bistro, Giggles Toys & Candy, Juban’s Creole Restaurant, Mansurs on the Boulevard, Mike Anderson Seafood, Nothing Bundt Cakes and Portabello’s Grill.

Also, Red Stick Spice Co., Restaurant IPO, Ruffino’s Catering, Sammy’s Catering, Southside Gardens, Cooking Up Louisiana Treasures, Stroube’s Seafood & Steak, Superior Grill, Sweet + Savory Co., Sweet Impressions Bakery, Tallulah, The Edible Event, The Island Restaurant & Pub, Unique Cuisine & Catering, Velvet Cactus, Wanda & Phil Calkins Catering and Zea Rotisserie & Grill.

Legacy Luncheon

Earlier that day, I joined more than 100 others in having lunch with an old friend — former three-term Mayor Tom Ed McHugh, this year’s recipient of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance’s Rev. Mary E. Moody Medal of Lifetime Achievement. By his side, as always, was lovely life Betty.

McHugh’s support of the alliance and Mid City was heralded by Cox Communication’s Southeast Region Manager Jacqui Vines; Mayor Kip Holden, who came armed with proclamations; and the first executive director of Mid City, Boo Thomas.

Thomas had the honor of presenting the award to McHugh, who was mayor during her tenure. Emotional after a touching video highlighting Tom Ed’s life produced by Cox’s Jason Furrate, Thomas recalled the first FixUp! Mid City in 1993.

“Tom Ed came and surveyed all 20 houses that first year, and he attended every FixUp! after that,” said Thomas. “He even painted a few houses; Betty, too … He was always willing to look at what needed to be done and help figure out how to get it done.”

“All those things I did, I didn’t know I had a choice,” quipped McHugh. “Boo was in my office so often I thought she was on staff. Perry (Franklin, who succeeded Thomas as executive director) was just about as bad as Boo.

“I had a lot of help from a lot of people,” continued McHugh. “That’s what makes communities work — people working together. It really humbles me greatly. I treasure this day, these friendships.”

McHugh wasn’t the only one getting an award at the luncheon. Baton Rouge General, which has been an integral part of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance since the beginning, annually presents its Community of Caring Award at this event. This year’s recipient was Baton Rouge Coca-Cola.

The event came to a touching close with a performance of “You Thought I was Worth Saving” by the Cox Communications Choir.

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