Last year's "Drive Away Cancer" golf fundraiser had barely wrapped up when people started asking, "You're going to do it again, aren't you?"
It was more of a demand than a question; a thought that it was a matter of course that the first outing would evolve into a second, maybe even an annual event, that would continue to pay tribute to a well-loved man named John Kubek and help people recovering from debilitating illnesses like the one that killed him.
The first fundraiser, organized by Kubek's grandson, Cody Millian, was held on March 11, 2011, and raised $10,000 that was donated to the local Livestrong Program at the Gills YMCA. Millian, now 19, organized the golf outing to fulfill the required community service portion of his high school project at J.W. Mitchell High and also to memorialize his grandfather who passed away in 2010 after being diagnosed with bone cancer.
Cody's mom, Sue Millian, 51, loved the thought that her dad's imprint might be felt long into the future. But the first fundraiser took a lot of time and work and Cody was attending school at Gulf Coast University in Naples. Others would have to take on the bulk of the work; contacting sponsors and golfers, drumming up raffle donations and organizing the evening banquet and the games for each hole.
Sue, a mother of three adult children and grandmother of one, who works with her husband, Howard, in the family's air conditioning business, already had enough to do.
"I kept telling people that I couldn't guarantee that we could do it again," she said "But the thought that we might never really left my mind."
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It was late summer of 2011, right around the time a decision had to be made to do the fundraiser or not, when Sue felt the lump.
It was during a self-breast exam. The lump hadn't shown up on her latest mammogram or the one that followed her discovery, Sue said. It was a sonogram that showed not one lump, but two. Then came the biopsy and a September diagnosis — Stage 1 breast cancer — the MRI, surgery, chemotherapy and finally radiation.
With all that going on, planning the fundraiser seemed daunting, but Cody kept pushing.
"I just wanted to do it again because last year we had such a good response," Cody said. "And I thought it would be good for her (Sue) and that it would add another tie-in, for breast cancer — that we could raise more money for that."
"I kept telling him, I thought it was too much," said Cody's dad, Howard Millian. But after awhile, he softened, realizing that the diversion might be good for his wife.
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Sue had finally come out of what she calls "the chemo haze." She was about halfway through her radiation treatments when the second annual Drive Away Cancer Golf Outing got underway on April 1 at Seven Springs Golf and Country Club.
It may have started out as a high school student's senior project, but this time Cody had lots of help. He came home weekends to see his mom and help with the planning. Family and members of their staff pitched in. There were 132 golfers paying $80 each and a slew of volunteers. Among them, cancer survivors who had attended the Livestrong program and members of the Mitchell High soccer team who came on board after Cody visited the school to encourage them to volunteer. Julio Vega, the district vice president of the YMCA of the Suncoast of west Pasco County, came out and spent the day taking pictures and selling raffle tickets.
"I couldn't believe it — everyone was having such a great time and they raised so much money," Vega said. "I've been to a lot of golf tournaments in my career and, I tell you, I walked away with a lot of ideas."
"It was amazing," Howard Millian said, adding that the tournament sold out just days after they announced it. They also had four major sponsors of $1,000 each, three sponsors of $500 each and 20 sponsors of $100 each.
All totaled, the fundraiser brought in more than $18,000.
Once again, $10,000 will go to the Livestrong, a 12-week program that offers physical training and emotion support for those who have undergone or still going through, treatment for cancer.
But this year, the Millian's have also decided to expand their reach.
They recently founded a nonprofit organization called the JK Cancer Fund Inc., in honor of John Kubek, and are also planning to donate funds to a breast cancer organization that has yet to be determined.
"I want to keep it local like we did with Livestrong," Sue said, adding that she is open to ideas. "That program is a safe haven — a good place to go after treatment — especially for those who are alone and don't have the support that I have."
As for next year?
"I can't see us not doing it," Howard said.
"I always say "no," Sue said. "But I'm sure there will be another."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]