PALMETTO -- Of all the Manatee County organizations active in the national struggle to find a cure for cancer, the Beta Kappa Chapter of Phi Beta Psi Sorority may be the least known.
Even the 24 members of the sorority from Bradenton and surrounding areas acknowledge that they often toil in anonymity due to not having the publicity power of larger groups.
"The American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen are known by everyone, but we are out there too and, because we are all volunteers, 100 percent of the money we raise goes to cancer research," said Bradenton's Marilyn Phillips, a 46-year member of the sorority, which was founded in 1904 in Columbus, Ohio, to fight, at that time, polio.
On Sunday Beta Kappa Chapter members, who helped raise roughly $350,000 na
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tionally last year for cancer research, hosted a fundraiser with the help of the Manatee County Radio Controllers.
They called the two-day event "Flying for a Cure" and, on Sunday's final day, a steady stream of families with kids, couples and others spent money at the MCRC air field at 7315 71st Ave. E. in Palmetto. The money will be used for cancer research.
Besides an airshow featuring members of the MCRC flying their planes, there was a candy drop at noon, kids' activities, a 50/50 raffle, flight simulators and a car show. The $2 parking donation and all money raised from food and beverages went to the cause, Phillips said.
Maybe because Phi Beta Psi is a smaller organization than its sister groups, its members can get a more personal and up-front view of the cancer war.
Recently, member Susan Wedel got to deliver a $52,000 cancer research grant check from the national fund of the sorority to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, and she got to meet the woman who was awarded the funds,
"She is taking T cells, which are part of the immune system, out of a person with cancer," Wedel said. "Once they are out, she beefs them up, she make many, many, more of them that are healthy and puts them back in that same person. Once inside, the beefed-up T cells go and attack the cancer. And she's been very successful with melanoma. She is now, with our help, going to be working on colon cancer and I think it is so exciting. The research is going on right here in Florida."
The effort that the sorority is making touched Ray Thompson, 75, of Palmetto, who is a ex-president of the MCRC and is in remission from acute myeloid leukemia, which was diagnosed in 2014. Thompson said the research that the public doesn't always see that comes from dollars raised is making a difference.
"The chemotherapy medicines are so much better now," he said. "We have things to fight with now that we didn't have years ago and that's because of research."
When first diagnosed, Thompson was given five different cancer drugs over a 37-day regimen. He jokes that the doctor told him to expect his food to taste like cardboard.
"Just bring me a cardboard box for dinner," Thompson later told a nurse.
"I wouldn't be alive now if it wasn't for the chemo," Thompson added. "It's that simple."
Bill Cryer, who has been president of the MCRC for the past seven years and is the owner of Bradenton Lawn & Fun, a Bradenton lawn mower store, said it was an honor to help the sorority host the fundraiser. Cryer's wife, Cheryl, is its treasurer.
"It's a sad fact that nearly everyone has been touched by this vicious, venomous disease," Cryer said. "So, to be able to help with this cause brings chills to my bones right now."
Besides its work funding cancer research in hospitals, Beta Kappa, which is one of 11 chapters in Florida, also picks out a family each year which has someone battling cancer and is in need of help. They call it Project Nicholas after a young boy whose life was claimed by cancer.
"A good amount of years ago, our very first family that had a young child named Nicholas just became so special to all of us," Wedel said. "We provided them a whole Christmas, from Christmas tree to everything. We had gifts for the entire family, It was just a wonderful experience for their family and for us."
"It touched us our heart so much that we all agreed that we needed to continue to look for families with children who are batting this disease and help them out every year," Wedel added. "And we just decided to go ahead and name it after this little fellow being it's Christmas and St. Nicholas. So now it has become Project Nicholas."
Anyone who would like to make a donation can make a check out to "Phi Beta Psi" and send it to Phi Beta Psi, in care of Bradenton Lawn and Fun Inc., 6004 43rd Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34209. For more information, call 941-962-3735.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.