- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

As new Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta put it, "Any cause thats related to cancer, Ill always support."

Because so many others feel the same way about the disease, which kills more than 500,000 people a year, its no surprise that Friday nights spring gala of the Cancer Research Foundation of America was an astounding success. The black-tie event at the National Building Museum raised $1.6 million, a record amount for the group. It was achieved with enormous help from deep-pocketed corporations, including Pharmacia, Verizon, Eli Lilly and Federal Express, as well as the 1,100 guests who paid $325 each or $5,000 to $25,000 for a table.

Many party-goers also happily contributed to a raffle that cost $50 for two chances to win some impressive prizes, including a Mediterranean sailing adventure, a one-week stay at Kilcolgan Castle in Ireland and two tickets with hotel and air fare to the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The guests generosity was rewarded with a Tuscan-themed dinner, a nod to the honorary patrons, Italian Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo and his wife, Anna Maria who, according to the ambassador, helped plan the menu without his input.

"I am a terrible cook," he said, smiling.

Tables were decorated with centerpieces of grapevines heavy with fruit, and the dinner was dubbed, aptly, "i tesori di Toscana" ("treasures of Tuscany"). It began with cacciucco, a creamy fishermans soup with sea bass, shrimp and squid, and ended with rhubarb compote with red-wine gelato and crushed pistachios. In between came veal Florentine with caramelized pearl onions and a rich spring-pea risotto.

The recipes werent exactly lifted from the Weight Watchers cookbook, though the foundations president, Carolyn "Bo" Aldige, swore that she and gala chairwoman Marcia Carlucci had been aiming for a low-fat meal. "We always try to keep the menu as healthy as possible," said Mrs. Aldige, whose organization supports cancer prevention.

Mrs. Aldige said she started the Alexandria-based foundation 15 years ago, a year after her father died of cancer, and she started thinking about how lifestyle choices relate to the illness.

"I used to think cancer is something you either get or dont get and theres nothing you can do about it," she said.

Since then, she has helped raise $42.1 million, directed toward scientific research, education and early detection. The foundation successfully lobbied to make March National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and supports such programs as the Mammovan, a mobile mammography unit in Washington that has screened more than 8,000 women for breast cancer. Rather than give out party bags at the gala, organizers decided to direct the money that would have been spent on them to providing an additional 75 free mammograms.

Ian Smith, medical correspondent for NBCs "Today" show, said that while there are plenty of cancer charities worthy of support, he joined this foundations board "because of the strength of Bos vision. An organization is only as good as its leader." Mrs. Aldige, he added, is "so strong and so knowledgeable for a layperson."

Mrs. Aldiges conviction also has resonated with some big names in politics: George H.W. and Barbara Bush attended the first gala seven years ago, and this year brought a few of the younger Mr. Bushs new Cabinet members: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and Mr. Mineta, who has had lung cancer. Plenty of senators, members of Congress and other notables, including Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat; Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican; Ambassador Rubens Barbosa of Brazil and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Local weather personality Bob Ryan said he signed on because "Im friends with Marcia Carlucci. We play tennis together." But many people attended because their lives have been shaken by cancer, either personally or through the sickness or death of a loved one.

Joan Holtons husband died from the disease 25 years ago, when he was just 47. "There are just too many people dying from cancer who I think dont have to," she said. Across the table sat Alexine Jackson, who is the national president of the YWCA, on the board of the Cancer Research Foundation and, for almost 15 years, a breast cancer survivor. Shes optimistic. Because of the growing emphasis on prevention and education in this country, she said, "there are more cancers being found, but less deaths."

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