"Cancer is a word, not a sentence." That was Melissa Pittman’s favorite quote as she fiercely battled brain cancer for eight years.
In the spring of 2016, Melissa lost that battle but her husband, Jay Pittman, has adopted her fighting spirit and vows to never give up. "We need to keep progressing and moving forward," he says.
To that end, Jay and his friends started a golf tournament to not only honor Melissa’s memory but also raise money for brain cancer research at Moffitt Cancer Center. The ninth annual Golfers vs. Brain Cancer Golf Tournament is slated for Nov. 17 at East Lake Woodlands Country Club in Oldsmar.
We sat down with Jay and asked him a few questions about his loving wife and how the golf tournament has grown over the past nine years.
1. Tell us more about Melissa and how you started this fundraiser in her honor.
Our family had just relocated to the Oldsmar area for my job and my wife worked at the East Lake Woodlands Country Club. My wife had started showing symptoms, such as a twitching in the eye. After that she went through different tests and was referred to Dr. Harry Van Loveren who did the initial biopsy. He then referred us to Moffitt for treatment. She was 40-years-old with two teenage kids; she was living the American dream. During the duration of her treatment, she always maintained a positive attitude and sense of humor. She was all about going forward. In the end of January 2009, she began radiation and chemotherapy, with the darkest times coming in mid-August 2009. My kids were 13 and 16 at the time and they had to learn how to become caregivers. Members of the golf club were visiting her, one of them being George Massaua. He asked, “what can we do to help?” and her response was “let’s find a cure.” A golf tournament was suggested to raise money and that’s how Golfers vs. Brain Cancer was formed. Our intentions were to make an impact specifically on brain cancer because this particular type of cancer was underfunded for research.
2. How has the golf tournament evolved since it started in 2009?
The first tournament was put together in about eight weeks. The goal was to have 100 golfers and 192 golfers teed off. We raised $52,000 the first year. It was pretty remarkable. The format of the golf tournament is still the same. The opening ceremony has become more emotional and this past year was the first year after losing Melissa. It’s a very stirring opening ceremony that has been adopted by other charity events as well. The repetition rate of participants has been incredible, we anticipate 280 golfers this year and I could probably name 200 of them right now. We are a grass-roots organization and a tight-knit community and we are trying to expand out into the Tampa Bay community.
3. What do you enjoy most about the golf tournament? Can you share details about this year’s tournament?
Our tournament date is always the Friday before Thanksgiving. This year it will be held on Nov. 17 at the East Lake Woodlands Country Club. I look forward to seeing friends and family come out to support the cause. It is very heartwarming, year after year; to know that there is still good left in this world. This is a day where you see a lot of love, hope and faith. I enjoy the fact that my late wife touched so many lives in different ways, and that we have the kind of support, so that as an organization we can continue to fight and honor Melissa’s legacy.
4. How have you seen the money tangibly affect cancer patients?
When Melissa had a procedure done in August 2015, the doctors had to remove excess growth in her brain and we had agreed to take part in a brand new genetic study. They took a biopsy of the tumor they removed and performed a genetic breakdown of the cells. The doctor began telling us that a local group raising money for brain cancer research helped fund this particular genetic study that Dr. [Peter] Forsyth recommended we be a part of. Something that Golfers vs. Brain Cancer did was something my wife was a part of from a research standpoint.
5. How much money have you raised thus far? What keeps you motivated to keep raising money year after year?
We are close to the $750,000 mark in the nine years we’ve been fundraising. Which is amazing in the fact that the largest single donor we’ve ever had is $7,500. It is very much a grass-roots effort. I hope this year is the last year of the tournament; I hope we find a cure, and then we’ll move onto something else. That is what keeps me motivated, that one day we can eradicate this life-robbing adversary.