The two founders of the newly formed DeCesaris-Prout Cancer Foundation have already donated $500,000 to charity.
The largest amount went to the American Cancer Society, with smaller donations made to Mercy Medical Center, Anne Arundel Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
They did it over a period of five years by tirelessly organizing and hosting an annual one-day championship golf tournament. Once a family affair, foursomes sell out quickly and, last June, one eager golfer arrived at the first hole via his personal helicopter, all set to play.
On Feb. 9 in a special ceremony at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the American Cancer Society recognized the duo’s tremendous spirit and successful efforts with its Regional Award of Excellence for Economic Development.
When the 6th Annual DeCesaris/Prout Championship Golf Tournament tees off on June 27 at the Twin Shields Golf Club in Dunkirk, both founders will be 31.
The two fresh-faced women, Elizabeth “Beth” Prout Lennon and her friend Joann Marie DeCesaris, are hardly the image of savvy fundraisers. But, their passion was seared by memories of family members who endured cancer.
Maureen Prout was “the epitome of health,” said her daughter, now a mother herself of two children. Mrs. Lennon remembered how her middle-aged mother took care of herself, watched her weight and what she ate.
Six years ago, Mrs. Prout began to experience unexplainable back pain, indigestion and bloating. When she asked her gynecologist if she might have ovarian cancer, he prescribed medicines for her symptoms, physical therapy to help her back muscles and suggested she lose the weight.
Finally, when Mrs. Prout insisted her general practitioner perform a CT scan, she learned she not only had ovarian cancer, but it had metastasized to stage II cancer. “We were surprised it was so advanced,” said Mrs. Lennon, a Friendship resident. “We did research online. There was not a lot of information out there.”
Ten months later, 46-year-old Geaton DeCesaris Jr. was diagnosed with the No. 1 cancer killer – lung cancer. He had never smoked. His was a very rare form. When his daughter Joann Marie wanted to find a ribbon designated for lung cancers not caused by tobacco, she could only find ribbons for tobacco smokers. Ms. DeCesaris, who lives near Westfield Annapolis mall, now wears a clear gilt-edged ribbon honoring victims of the “invisible” lung cancer.
Mr. DeCesaris was the president and chief executive officer of Washington Homes, Inc. When the company was purchased by K. Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., Mr. DeCesaris remained as president of Hovnanian Land Investment Group, a subsidiary of the corporation.
With his wife (whose name is also JoAnn), and the couple’s five daughters, the family made a $3 million gift in late 2002 to Anne Arundel Medical Center – the largest gift in the center’s history.
It was used to help build a $13 million expansion of the cancer center, renamed the Geaton and JoAnn DeCesaris Cancer Institute in their honor.
Mrs. Lennon and Ms. DeCesaris, both 31, have been fast friends since fifth-grade. Even when the NSA transferred the Prout family to England for 4½ years, the girlfriends kept in touch.
Ms. DeCesaris manages the National Institute of Health’s Oxford-Cambridge Scholars, an international biomedical research alliance among doctoral candidates. Mrs. Lennon is event designer for Herrington On The Bay Catering. Her husband, Chris, works in Washington, D.C., for Verizon.
Both enjoy golf, as do their families. Mrs. Lennon even met her future husband at a golf course.
They called Marion Swift, at the American Cancer Society, and asked about sponsoring a golf tournament fundraiser. Ms. Swift mentioned planning was under way for breast cancer golf tournament fundraiser, entering its fifth year. When the two showed up, no other volunteers were there.
“We co-chaired the event and raised $15,000 for an all-women’s tournament that year,” said Mrs. Lennon.
After Ms. DeCesaris’ father was diagnosed with lung cancer, the golf tournament was renamed the DeCesaris-Prout Championship Golf Tournament. For the June 2003 event, 144 golfers turned out to support their cause, raising $50,000. Both parents pitched in, too.
Sadly, Mr. DeCesaris succumbed to his illness at age 50 in April 2006. Mrs. Prout passed away Jan. 24, 2007.
“These two cancers claim so many lives,” said Mrs. Lennon. Her friend added, “Early detection would save so many of them.”
The two work tirelessly to ensure each golf event is bigger and better than before. “People come from Virginia, Texas, New York to play in this event,” said Mrs. Lennon. “It’s such a family-friendly event. There’s contests at every hole. It’s a fun day. People could come to this marvelous course and play $50 to play on a regular day. But, they come and happily play for $100 to $200 to help fund cancer research and treatments.”
The 2007 tournament raised $150,000.
Golf Manager Mark McElrath, 34, of the American Cancer Society, works closely with the women. “They’ve had a great success raising money, the tournament has grown 20 percent each year they’ve done it,” he said. “For two people, the effort they put forward exceeds what most people do. It says something about their character.”
“In the past, the funds were earmarked for lung, ovarian and breast cancer research through the American Cancer Society,” said Ms. DeCesaris. “Last November, we set up a new foundation to provide money to doctors and researchers with whom we’ve met. The American Cancer Society will continue to receive much of the funding, but the purpose of our foundation is so people can see where the money is going and how it is making a difference.”
Mrs. Lennon said they are not taking any salary. “Our overhead is less than 7 percent. It used to be just the two of us and Ms. Swift, now it’s huge. We have 50 volunteers on the day of the tournament to cook hot dogs, run the silent auction, put signs up. A core group of 10 put on the tournament.”
Their volunteer efforts have paid off in other ways. “Three people realized they had some symptoms and were diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early as a result of information we gave them at the tournament.”
Mrs. Lennon also serves as asistant executive director of the National Breast & Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Inc. headed by Nikki Karl. “Beth and her mom became avid volunteers,” said Mrs. Karl. “Her mom was given the title of honorary director of hope and inspiration. Even in her 90th round of chemo, she was always impeccably dressed and full of good spirits.”
“Beth and JoAnn gave us our very first dollar,” added Mrs. Karl. “A grant to get the NBOCC started. The work they’re doing here and with their foundation is really to be celebrated.”
The two women venture over to Westfield Annapolis mall periodically and, with the mall management’s approval, hand literature out to passersby. “I’ll try to get information out to every person who will listen, if I have to stand at the mall every weekend handing out booklets,” Ms. DeCesaris said vehemently.
They also post clear, easy-to-understand information about cancer symptoms and research news on the foundation Web site, www.dpcancerfoundation.org.
“We need to make a difference somehow,” added Mrs. Lennon. “Researchers think if people get scans regularly, they can wipe out breast cancer. If we can get the word out, we can help get rid of these diseases.”
“Once, while we were handing out pamphlets, my dad, Charlie Prout, joined us. One guy said to him: ‘What kind of man gives out a pamphlet on breast and ovarian cancer research?’ “
“My dad replied: ‘A man who watched his mother die of breast cancer and, 15 years later, sees his wife die of ovarian cancer. That’s who.'”