Dr. Rudolph Navari in Dowagiac Aug. 12 for the first Coins for Cass County Cancer Service fundraiser. About 75 people attended a soup and salad luncheon at the Elks. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Dr. Rudolph Navari in Dowagiac Aug. 12 for the first Coins for Cass County Cancer Service fundraiser. About 75 people attended a soup and salad luncheon at the Elks. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Berrien County’s ‘Pennies for Patients’ Inspires Cass County’s coins for cancer

Published 9:10am Thursday, August 13, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Used to be, a cancer diagnosis meant a death sentence.

“That’s not true in 2009,” Dr. Rudolph Navari said in Dowagiac Wednesday. “We have great treatments. But the public has to help us. Women need to have annual mammograms because we can cure breast cancer if we detect it early. Our treatments for breast cancer are so good now we’ve taken that disease from 25 years ago when it was fatal to a chronic disease we can treat, like hypertension.”

Dr. Navari, M.D., Ph.D., is assistant dean and director of the Indiana School of Medicine, South Bend campus, and director of the Cancer Institute at the University of Notre Dame.
Colon cancer’s incidence is the same for men and women, Dr. Navari noted.

“All of you over 50 need annual colonoscopies. “It’s partly genetic and partly what we eat. If we can detect it early, we can remove it surgically and cure it. If someone in your family – parents, siblings, children – had colon cancer, your risk increases five times. Genetics is very important in many of these diseases.”

While women “do quite well with checkups, men don’t,” he said. “Why should I go to the doctor? I feel fine. Plus, going to the doctor costs money and they do bad things to you.”

Prostrate cancer, like colon and breast cancer, “we can basically get rid of it if we detect it early,” Dr. Navari said.

News about lung cancer is less glowing.

“We don’t have any good screenings for it,” Dr. Navari said. “We can’t find it early. If you see it on a chest X-ray, at that point it’s only about 3 percent curable or less. Lung cancer is almost totally preventable. If you smoke, see your doctor about ways to stop. In five years, your risk for lung cancer will be reduced significantly to the point of almost a non-smoker. These are four disease you can help us in terms of eliminating and treating cancer – breast, colon, prostrate and lung. We hope in the next five years to be able to determine what genes cause cancer. With a blood test, we can predict what potential cancers you might have in the future and see if we can intervene to prevent that.”
“I see patients every day, give them a diagnosis and propose a treatment,” Dr. Navari said. “We try to help them get through that treatment, but many times we fall short. Their needs are just exactly the kind of things your cancer care service does. What you are doing is incredibly important. I encourage you to continue and to enlarge this work. The kinds of services your group provides, many of them are not provided by insurance or home health care. Many of them are not provided by anybody. Someone in a large family with a good support system, they can supply those kinds of services. But, unfortunately, in our society, families are all over the country now. Children in California, Texas or Florida who come in for a day or two can’t provide the kind of care that is really necessary. This group provides essential service for people with cancer who are being treated.”

A soup and salad luncheon at Dowagiac Elks Lodge 889 Wednesday kicked off the new “Coins for Cass County Cancer Service” fundraiser patterned after Berrien County’s 20th annual “Pennies for Patients” May 18.

Dr. Navari earned his doctorate from the University of Virginia and his medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia. He is board-certified in internal medicine and in medical oncology. From 1983 to 1998, he was a practicing medical oncologist, a medicine department chairman, a director of a bone marrow transplantation program and a director of a comprehensive cancer program.

In 1997, Dr. Navari was elected a fellow of the American College of Physicians.
He joined the faculty of the College of Science at Notre Dame in 1999 as director of the cancer research center.

He was appointed associate dean of the College of Science in 2000.

In July 2005, he became professor of medicine, assistant director of the Indiana University School of Medicine, South Bend, adjunct professor of biochemistry and director of the cancer research center.

He practices medical oncology and hematology with the South Bend Clinic.
Cheryl Weise of St. Joseph has been involved in health care for 25 years, including nuclear medicine, family practice, emergency medicine and medical education. Eighteen years ago she was recruited to join the Berrien County Cancer Service, which is more than 60 years old, and serves on its board.

“It started with our executive director talking to someone from a radio station about something we could do to increase our fundraising. We collected $5,000 in pennies. This past year we collected $22,000. Over the last 20 years we’ve collected $327,510.”

Weise said initially countertop cans with a hot pink logo were distributed to businesses. Change was deposited in them by customers.

Next, “We decided to get youth involved,” she said. “We sent letters to the superintendents at the different schools, they talked to their principals – we have three large school systems – and it became a communitywide competition. The kids decorated containers and collected coins on Penny Day. We have a coin sorter that counts them. Little kids came in with their milk jugs and talked on the radio. As this got going – by year four or five with the kids involved – schools wanted to see if they could fill up a bathtub. It took on a whole another life of its own. This year we recruited churches. If you go into most any church in Berrien County you’ll see a can with our pink logo.”
Penny Day falls on the third Thursday every May. Fliers are sent out starting in February and the event is promoted steadily through the BCCS newsletter.

“We have more than 200 volunteer hours that go into this one event,” Weise said. “You see signs up saying ‘yard sale’ or ‘open house,’ you just kind of drive by. But if you see balloons on it, the balloons catch your attention, so my challenge to you is I want each and every one of you to be the balloons for Cass County Cancer Service,” which formed in 1991.

The only remaining founding member, Viola Neff, was recognized.

The turnout, including WGTO radio and WNDU-TV from South Bend, Ind., gave President Don Hall of Dowagiac “goosebumps. This is the first time we’ve done this. We want people to know who we are and what we stand for,” since there is always confusion between a service (269-699-5551) which supplies county residents with supplies such as walkers, canes, crutches, wigs, wheelchairs, toilet extenders and commodes, plus limited financial assistance for prescription drugs, medical supplies and nutritional supplements, and the American Cancer Society and its Relay for Life, which emphasize research.
Vice President Linda Minnix and her grandchildren made 100 Coins for Cass County canisters to be placed around the community.

“When you think about us, drop a coin in there,” Hall, a cancer survivor, suggested. “A year from now we’ll have a luncheon like this, Coin Day or an evening banquet. We’re going throughout the county and try to get schools and social clubs involved. We want you to remember that you’re not doing it for us, you’re doing it for the cancer patients of Cass County.”

Marge Dudeck and Paul Jones, who have appeared at Round Oak Restaurant for 20 of the 26 years they have performed together, provided music.
Dudeck started as a pianist-singer in Green Bay, Wis., where frequent guests were Packers coach Vince Lombardi and his wife.
The winning coach of the first Super Bowl’s favorite song was “Darktown Strutters Ball.”

She sang “I’ll Take Care of Your Cares” and, to close, “God Bless America.”
Jones, a professional musician for 42 years and a public school music teacher in South Bend for 29 years, serenaded audience members while singing “Old Man River.”

Dudeck also performed at The Wooden Keg, Eddies Restaurant, The Club Lido and The Lincoln Highway Inn.

Marge and Paul began appearing together in 1982 at The Pick Oliver.

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