By Clare Marie Celano
After learning that several Marlboro High School Class of 1991 graduates were living with extremely serious medical situations, former classmates Amy Goodman, of Marlboro, and Marc Levinsky, of Metuchen, decided they needed to do something to help their friends.
With a nod to the school’s mascot, the Mustangs, the pair has created Mustangs to the Rescue, a fundraiser and reunion to be held from 7-10 p.m. Nov. 23 at McLoone’s Pier House, Long Branch.
Levinsky he said he read about his classmates’ situations on Facebook and contacted Goodman.
“I saw their stories and knew I needed to do something,” he said.
The members of the Class of 1991 were expecting to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their graduation when Levinsky suggested the idea of a fundraiser and reunion to Goodman.
“These are people we knew and they have serious struggles,” Levinsky said. “Amy and I wanted to help. What better way to raise funds for our friends than by having a reunion-fundraiser?”
They reached out to former classmates via Facebook, including Tami Eagle Bowling, of Scotch Plains, who had used the social media site to let her friends know she had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in March 2015.
“We used social media to communicate plans for our fundraiser and the response was amazing,” Goodman said. “Classmates who were not very close to one another over the years responded with compassion and kindness to help out former classmates, with many offering their special skills to help.”
A committee was formed which included Bowling, who is a beneficiary of the fundraiser. Additional beneficiaries are Sam Jundef (married to Jessica, a 1991 graduate). Sam was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Also receiving assistance will be 1991 graduate Lisa Lebowitz-Weissman, whose son was diagnosed with childhood cancer.
The committee members are Goodman, Levinsky, Bowling, Pari Chang, Marc Van Valen, Dani Schlossmacher, Kerry Moran and Alan Gutman.
“We realized how much of a financial impact medical expenses have had on our classmates’ families and how desperate they were to advance research that might save their lives,” Goodman said. “We felt helpless, but wanted to do something for our classmates who were going through such a difficult time.
“When someone you know is going through a difficult time you want to help,” Goodman said, revealing that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Goodman said she had surgery and is doing well. She said helping to plan the Nov. 23 event has been good for her and has helped her to focus on “something good.”
Gutman created a Making Reunions Matter website which includes information about each beneficiary. Donations may be made to a specific individual and tickets for the fundraiser may be purchased at $150 each or $250 for a pair.
Other classmates have contributed as well. Two are DJs and will entertain guests at the reunion. One classmate donated a whiskey tasting in New York City, one is providing a weekend getaway at an adventure resort in Connecticut, and still another is offering a four-day stay at a condominium in Vail, Colo. Additional donations from classmates include tickets for concerts and sports events.
These gifts will be offered in an online auction that can be accessed at http://makingreunionsmatter.com/auction/
The Mustangs to the Rescue event is being dedicated “to fund research efforts focusing on medical issues afflicting our alumni in need and to provide financial assistance to ease the burden for our alumni as they manage their medical expenses,” the organizers said.
The effort is associated with the Breast Cancer Alliance in Connecticut, which Goodman said is graciously assisting in fundraising.
“We are hoping to make this a long-term organization to continuously raise funds to help Marlboro High School alumni,” Goodman said. “We are also hoping other communities will see this and organize something similar to help their alumni.”
After a routine mammogram in the spring of 2015, Bowling was told she had Stage 4 invasive ductal carcinoma which had metastasized to her liver. She was not a candidate for surgery. At the time of her diagnosis her daughters were 2 and 5. She had a normal baseline mammogram 20 months before her cancer was diagnosed.
Bowling said the FDA approved Ibrance, a new chemotherapy pill for which she was a candidate. She began taking Ibrance in combination with a hormone inhibitor. Today, her scans show no evidence of disease, but she said Ibrance, on average, is only effective for two years.
‘You just never know,” Bowling said. “I never thought it could happen to me. Take mammograms seriously. More research is needed to manage this as a chronic illness instead of one that kills.”
She said her new mantra is “make each day meaningful” and “make something positive out of something very negative.” She said she is grateful for all the help she has received from her friends and said she has a new understanding of the expression “love heals.”
“I am blessed with my loving husband, David, and two beautiful girls, an amazing family and close friends,” Bowling said. “And for that I will fight as hard as I can. I also have to believe in the power of science and technology. I am 41 years old and it is entirely possible a cure will be found in my lifetime. I am going to take this day by day and conquer each battle set before me and, in the meantime, I am going to smell the sweet roses along the way.”
Bowling asked anyone who wants to help to consider making a donation to the Breast Cancer Alliance through the Making Reunions Matter website.
Lebowitz-Weissman and her husband, Stuart, have been caring for their 3-year-old son who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in March.
Their son is undergoing chemotherapy and has been in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since March, with short breaks at home. A recent scan showed no visible sign of disease.
The couple have been swapping nights in the hospital. They both have full-time jobs and another son who is 11. The family would be grateful for contributions made through the website, which will go toward out-of-pocket medical expenses, childcare and therapy.
Jessica Hazan Jundef’s (’91), husband Sam, (’92), was diagnosed with ALS two years ago. He is confined to a wheelchair and is being fed through a feeding tube, according to the website.
Jessica works as a teacher and is working to make her house accessible for her husband. Tax deductible donations may be made to joandancyandpals.org, which is an ALS support group in Monmouth and Ocean counties.