The news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer hit Donna Whitko-Fisk first.
The New Jersey mother of three — ages 5, 3 and 1 — was 35 seven years ago. Shortly before undergoing the first of three surgeries, including a double mastectomy, Whitko-Fisk contracted pneumonia.
Hit No. 2 left her unable to hold her youngest.
Whitko-Fisk’s twin sister, Sheri Whitko of Glencoe, and Sheri’s husband flew to New Jersey to be there for Donna and her family for a month. The aunt of Whitko’s husband had died of breast cancer that same year.
“It was a very emotional road for Donna and our family,” recalls Whitko, a co-chair (with Wendy Heltzer) of the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation’s Annual Fall Luncheon. “My family has definitely been hit by this disease, and, given our personal connection, I feel very passionate about the cause.”
Whitko is grateful that her twin’s cancer didn’t spread; Whitko-Fisk didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments. This made Sheri Whitko more determined to take an active role in the foundation.
The Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation (LSCRF), in its 33rd year, holds its luncheon at the Hilton Chicago October 22.
Event proceeds will help LSCRF continue to support innovative work in breast cancer research, fellowships and educational programs at Northwestern Medicine and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Whitko is thrilled that her twin sister, her parents and other family members will travel to Chicago to attend the luncheon.
“I’m very appreciative that my sister survived, and I’m grateful to be connected with Northwestern, a great hospital,” Whitko says.
Whitko is excited that this year’s Pink Ribbons Awards luncheon has an Academy Awards theme. Its guest speaker will be Jill Kargman, an actress, author and cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy recently.
Kargman is the creator, writer, producer and star of the television comedy Odd Mom Out, where she plays a satirical version of herself facing the challenges of raising children on New York City’s Upper East Side.
In addition to hosting The Jill Kargman Show on SiriusXM Stars Channel 109, Kargman performs with the Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational and sketch comedy group. She recently appeared in the film A Bad Moms Christmas.
As an LSCRF executive board member, Whitko has had the pleasure of meeting several celebrity guest speakers, including Academy Award-winning actresses Sally Field, Diane Keaton and Kathy Bates, an ovarian and breast cancer survivor.
Whitko looks forward to meeting Kargman — “She’s hilarious,” Whitko says — at the LSCRF luncheon, during which Kargman’s publicist and friend, Chicagoan Julia Van Nice, will interview the entertainer.
The Pink Ribbons Award for Best Documentary Short Film will go to Grace, the story of a 36-year-old mom who covers her mastectomy scars with an elaborate tattoo. A breast cancer survivor directed the film.
The luncheon also will spotlight the founders and past chairs of LSCRF and feature a “Purse-Sue The Cure” auction offering collectibles and handbags from Channel, Judith Lieber and many other prominent designers.
A two-time breast cancer survivor will receive the Warrior Award, and a doctor from Northwestern Memorial Hospital will be honored with the Hero Award.
Maggie Smith, of Second City Chicago, will host the event, and in the spirit of the theme, each recipient will receive a trophy shaped like a ribbon.
“Although this auction has been going on for several years, we’re excited to add a men’s section with wallets and a kids section with little handbags,” Whitko says.
The room reserved for the luncheon at the Hilton Chicago holds up to 1,100 people. The size of the space stirs Whitko.
“One year we raised more than $1 million, and I hope we surpass that this year,” Whitko says. “Everyone has a personal connection with breast cancer, and it’s so important to find ways to eradicate it.”
MB Luxury Group is the sponsor of the LSCRF Annual Fall Benefit Luncheon. The event takes place October 22 at 11 a.m., at the Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue. For more information please visit lynnsage.org or call (312) 926-7133.