Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a cause 2024: Kathy Lato

CAUSE: Blue Ribbon Soirée

Back in 2011, Kathy and Ricky Lato had two of their best friends get diagnosed with prostate cancer. When Joel Nasca and Larry Ferachi received their diagnoses, they were both healthy doctors and at the time, there were not an abundance of options for treatment. The Latos felt an urgent call to help. Pushing through the shock, they founded the Blue Ribbon Soirée to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer research.

Together with their team of volunteers and friends, the Blue Ribbon Soirée has raised nearly $1.5 million over the last 12 years. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Just days before the annual event in 2022, Kathy Lato got her own diagnosis: skin cancer. She kept the news to herself because she wanted the focus of the night to stay on the late Larry Ferachi and Joel Nasca and prostate cancer awareness and research. While a different diagnosis to the one the event focuses on, Lato says it was humbling to be on the other side, seeing what of years of fundraising for research and awareness has resulted in.

“I was immediately told by doctors that if I would’ve gotten this diagnosis 10 years ago, it would have been a very different outcome because the treatment I received had only been around for about five years,” Lato explains. “Joel Nasca and Larry Ferachi tried so hard to beat prostate cancer but the treatments we have today were not around.”

Blue Ribbon Soirée has a big impact on research and awareness for prostate cancer locally. Dr. Oliver Sartor is the primary beneficiary of the event’s fundraising, as he works to produce cutting-edge research and FDA-approved clinical trials for prostate cancer at the Mayo Clinic.

“He travels the globe giving lectures and presentations on new developments in prostate cancer care, and he’s just truly so passionate and caring for all patients,” Lato says.

Another portion of the proceeds goes straight into the hands of local men suffering from prostate cancer, helping to cover the cost of copayments, medications, treatments and more.

Lato and her team have been putting on the Blue Ribbon Soirée for over a decade, and she also works as a full-time special education teacher at Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy while dealing with her cancer diagnosis, and the prostate cancer diagnoses of her two brothers.

“My son and grandson have the gene,” she says. “It puts into perspective just how many people are affected by cancer. There are a million fundraisers out there, and we know our cause, along with all the other cancer research happening, will hopefully result in us finding a cure.”