Serving up support – As Cancer Services plans its 30th Capital Chefs’ Showcase, survivors celebrate the group’s legacy of good works

When Shannon and Michael Diamond attended Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge’s Capital Chefs’ Showcase in 2009, they knew they were in for a night of good food benefiting a great cause.

They didn’t know that just a few months later, their own young son would face a cancer diagnosis—and their family would experience the support of the organization firsthand.

Now the Diamonds are adding their voices to a growing chorus of community members who have been touched by Cancer Services’ assistance and want the world to know about it. It’s a timely message, as the group celebrates 30 years of cooking for a cause at its Capital Chefs’ Showcase Sept. 6.

“I tell people that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital saved my son, and Cancer Services saved my family,” reflects Shannon. “It is hard to really convey how much they helped us all through the past two and a half years.”

From the moment the Diamonds received the news that 1-year-old Patrick had neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops in nerve tissue, the team at Cancer Services was there to lend aid and guidance. The organization provided a Candlelighter Grant, earmarked for families of children battling cancer, and helped secure a preschool scholarship for the Diamonds’ older son, Thomas. The family was directed toward special events for kids, support groups, and even counseling to “help carry us through a time in our marriage that we may not have survived alone,” Shannon says.

The benefits have been numerous and tangible, but one of the most valuable, she adds, is less easily defined.

“It’s just a feeling or an awareness that they are there for you,” Shannon says. “It is the peace of knowing others are in this with you.”

Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge has been giving patients and their families that comforting feeling for more than five decades, since being founded as a small United Way agency in 1959. The organization’s staff and volunteers work to carry out its mission of improving life for those with cancer through a variety of programs, from providing items like wheelchairs and wigs to offering educational and emotional support through group meetings, an on-site library of cancer related information and two children’s programs. 

“And we do all of this at no cost to our clients,” says Cancer Services marketing associate Connie Renee Boudreaux. “It’s all free of charge. In order to do that, we rely 100% on the generosity of the community, and Capital Chefs’ Showcase is a significant event to help us raise the support we need.”

The showcase began in 1982 as a two-day cooking demonstration at the Belmont Hotel. The brainchild of the late Judy Garland, the first event was also helmed by then-Executive Director Mary Jane Howell and Development Director Mary Delle Gerald, both of whom will be recognized at this year’s anniversary celebration. 

As the fundraiser’s popularity grew, it evolved from a demonstration format to a cocktail buffet highlighting area chefs and restaurants. And the number of attendees has increased from a few hundred to an expected 1,200 this year. Over its three decades, the showcase has raised more than $2.8 million; this year’s goal is to bring in $240,000.

“All the money stays here to help those in our 10-parish area living with, through and beyond cancer, as well as their family members,” says Boudreaux. 

The need for funding has grown significantly over the years along with the demand for the organization’s services. From 2010 to 2011 alone, Cancer Services saw a 16% increase in the number of clients served, a 23% rise in the number of participants in children’s activities, and an 83% increase in the number of adults seeking support.

“These tough economic times are having the double effect of increasing our clients’ needs for services while at the same time having an adverse impact on some long-term donors,” Boudreaux says. “We are not fee-based and do not receive insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Without the support of the entire community, we cannot continue to serve our clients at the same level in the future.”

Today, after 15 months of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, a stem-cell transplant and other treatments, little Patrick has been given the status of “no evidence of disease.” He must still undergo scans every six months to ensure that all remains well. In the meantime, his mother has become one of Cancer Services’ biggest advocates.

“I thank the Lord and the people who told us about Cancer Services that it was one of the first stops on our journey,” Shannon says. “Its people were there for us with support, encouragement, hope and information at the beginning. They were there with a supportive shoulder when times were hard. And they were there to celebrate with us when we slew the ugly beast of neuroblastoma.”