As long as there’s been a Best Cellars Dinner in Atlanta, Charlie Brusco has been in attendance to help raise awareness of and funds for cancer research.
Set for Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead, the 11th annual event benefits the T.J. Martell Foundation. It’s the music industry’s largest foundation for medical research for cancer ($280 million raised and counting) and the local funder of the Joel A. Katz Music is Medicine Fund, a cancer research fellowship grant for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in DeKalb County.
Brusco has been involved with the foundation since its inception in New York in 1975 (it was founded by record company executive Tony Martell and named for his son T.J., who died of leukemia).
But this year Brusco, the manager for Styx, Heart, Collective Soul, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Outlaws, BlackHawk and Don Felder of the Eagles, will attend the event as a cancer patient.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April and is being treated at Emory Proton Therapy Center in Midtown as part of the institute through the Martell Patient Services Program (www.tjmartell.org/patients/patient-services). Emory has one of five proton therapy machines at that level in the world.
“Until you have cancer straight in your face with someone in your family or yourself, cancer still seems like that ugly thing you don’t want to get,” said Brusco, a member of the foundation’s national board and the event’s dinner and music committees. “But you don’t get a realization of what it’s like and what it takes to go through it. I’ve been to Winship now three different times, and they’re the most caring, nice people I’ve ever met. Most people in hospitals are the same way, but they go out of their way.”
Brusco said a phone call to Laura Heatherly, the foundation’s CEO, led to him getting a calming call from Dr. Mitch Benson, the urology department chair at Columbia University in New York.
“He asked me some questions and very calmly said to me, ‘At your age (68 at the time) and your diagnosis, I can pretty much assure you that you won’t die of prostate cancer,’” he said.
That started the process in which he entered into a program at Emory, where he will undergo five weeks of five-day-a-week treatments starting in early September.
“Then I’ll be done and my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) will go (from 4.7) back down to zero. I’ll be considered cancer-free,” he said of the proton therapy.
Though not a cancer patient herself, Dawn Tresh has had two close family members die of the disease.
“My grandfather died of brain cancer and my aunt died of breast cancer,” she said. “Pretty much everyone I know knows someone who has had cancer. My grandfather was only 58 when he died, and I was very young, so it had a big impact on me. It was really hard.”
Tresh and her husband Eric and Carole and Tommy Dortch are serving as the event’s wine host co-chairs. The event will include a cocktail reception, a silent auction and a dinner in which many of Atlanta’s most knowledgeable wine collectors bring bottles of their best wines from their cellars to be paired with a four-course culinary meal executed by Executive Chef Joseph Trevino, followed by dancing to the music of Band X.
The dinner’s attendees and organizers include representatives of the music, sports, entertainment, restaurant/hospitality, healthcare and media industries, among others. Tresh and Brusco said the dinner succeeds for multiple reasons.
“The event stands out mainly because (host) Joel Katz is the one who has fashioned how this event goes,” Brusco said. “At (some other) events … there’s a lot of speeches and people talking about this and that and they get fairly boring. This is a really nice event. There’s time for everyone to get around to say hello to everybody and meet new people in the ballroom before dinner. There’s maybe 15 minutes of talking that goes on and then it’s a dance party where everyone has a good time.”
Said Tresh, “I think what really makes the event stand out is you really feel you’re at an intimate event. It’s 300 people but it feels like you’re part of a family event because you have a wine host and you’re sitting (at a table of 10) with your wine host and get to talk to them about the wine and the shared love of wine. That and the desire to cure cancer brings people together. … It’s a really fun event.”
Tickets are $800 and a table of 10 is $7,500.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.tjmartell.org.