The hundreds who gather at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Friday for Ian Beckles' poolside Blue & White Party will find South Beach sophistication, first-class food, exotic drinks, stylish fashions, smooth music and even live mermaids.
For a select group of parents, the event will be more than a chance to revel in good times. The annual fundraiser for the Children's Cancer Center (www.childrenscancercenter.org) will provide a respite from the daily challenges these mothers and fathers of sick children endure.
Beckles, a former Buccaneer who co-hosts a popular morning talk show on WDAE-AM 620, provides a private cabana for about a dozen of the center's parents, most of whom have been so consumed by helping their children they haven't enjoyed a night out.
"It will mean everything to my wife and me," says Leo Astacio, whose 20-month-old son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma last year. "It'll be a chance to get away from the reality that our little man is going through probably the toughest battle he's going to have to face in his life.
"They do a wonderful job of entertaining not only us, but the entire Tampa community."
Astacio, who manages several professional athletes including Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, had to rush home from Chicago in May of 2007 when baby Leo was just 10 weeks old. When doctors told him his son had tumors over his tiny midsection, a singular desire rushed into his heart.
"My first thought was, 'Why can't I get this and he not have it.' It's a helpless feeling," Astacio said. "It's a nasty disease, but it's inexplicable when it affects kids."
Two of the three tumors have been eradicated thanks to chemotherapy. Baby Leo has all his hair, a "mouthful of teeth" and runs so well few realize he's still battling cancer. While doctors provided the treatment, the Children's Cancer Center provided the support. It helps parents with financial, educational and emotional needs that go beyond the norm.
Astacio said the center proved particularly beneficial in counseling his two older daughters because so often siblings feel neglected when a brother or sister gets cancer.
"When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it's almost like a whole new world, and you need other people in that world," Astacio said.
Rob Rozmeski, whose 7-year-old son Zachary was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last year, credits the center with emotionally rescuing his wife Tina by providing counseling from other mothers who faced similar challenges.
Rozmeski raves about the hospitality he received from Beckles and his radio co-host Ron Diaz at last year's gala.
"I expected just a little party, but it's unbelievable," Rozmeski said. "Plus, you're with people that understand what you're going through. A lot of people think they feel what you're feeling, but they can't know unless they're living it."
Rozmeski, who named his construction company after his son, said Zachary is doing great by the grace of God, but has two more years of treatment. He hopes Zachary will someday run the company, and he'll celebrate that dream Friday.
We should celebrate it with him. Go to www.theeblueandwhiteparty.com for tickets and information.
That's all I'm saying