MANATEE -- Hall of Fame TV sportscaster and philanthropist Dick Vitale of Lakewood Ranch and retired Manatee County school guidance counselor Merilyn Webb of Parrish don’t know each other.
But they are connected in their desire and dedication to get the word out about preventing cancer.
Webb, who spent 32 years working for the School District of Manatee County, capping her career with 14 years at Gene Witt Elementary, is in remission with colon cancer. She tells her friends about the importance of early detection and of having regular colonoscopies.
“I want everyone to know that they need to have their regular exams and not miss any,” said Webb, who was getting tested every five years once she turned 45 but then missed a few years.
“That’s when it got me,” Webb said.
Vitale has had close friends who have died from cancer and is relentlessly trying to raise awareness and money for a cure. He tells his friends about early detection but he is doing it on a national scale.
“I get passionate about this,” Vitale said Sunday. “I go to places and accept awards because it allows me to reach thousands. The only way to find a cure is by raising dollars. Until my last breath I intend to keep fighting cancer.”
Vitale will receive the Stephen H. Goldman, M.D. Keystone Award presented by the Cancer Support Community Florida Suncoast during the “Celebration of Hope” dinner Wednesday night at The Polo Grill on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch.
The local award each year goes to one medical professional and one layperson who have been dedicated to supporting the local cancer community.
Dr. Larry Silverman, a Sarasota radiation oncologist, joins Vitale as a winner of the Goldman award.
“I am so flattered and honored that they would choose me,” Vitale said. “I toured the Cancer Support Community facility in Lakewood Ranch and I was blown away. They not only take care of the person with cancer, but also the family.”
How’s this for a cancer-fighting schedule: Vitale is receiving the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian of the Year Award Tuesday in Oklahoma City named for the University of Oklahoma and NBA basketball star who died in 2009 of cancer.
Vitale also will talk about a cure for cancer at a speaking engagement Tuesday in Denver, then he’s in Lakewood Ranch on Wednesday, only to fly to Louisville on Thursday and Naples on Friday. “I’m frenetic about this,” Vitale said.
Doctors recommend colonoscopies on a regular basis, especially if colon cancer runs in the family as it does Webb’s.
Told about Webb’s story, Vitale said he was impressed with Webb’s mission.
“I think Merilyn is 100 percent right,” Vitale said. “Early detection is the key to prostate, breast, colon and other cancers. People often don’t react until a stage when it’s not conducive to recovery. Merilyn is telling the message loud and clear to everyone she knows and that’s what I am trying to do about finding a cure.”
Vitale’s sixth annual Dick Vitale V Foundation Gala is set for May 20 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Sarasota. Last year, the event raised more than $1.2 million to fund cancer research, with grants going to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“We only have 50 more tickets left to sell at $1,000 per ticket,” Vitale said of the 2011 Gala, which will feature special guests John Calipari and Roy Williams.
“We would love people to donate what they can to fight this disease,” Vitale said.
Information: (800) 4JimmyV or www.jimmyv.org or dickvitaleonline.com.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.