Foundation holds fourth ‘Cure’ event

“Griff” may have lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, but Blair County hasn’t given up the fight.

On July 26, 27 and 28, the Greg and Cathy Griffith Foundation will host the fourth annual “Griff’s Run & Gun for a Cure.” Held in memory of Hollidaysburg resident Greg Griffith, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, the weekend will include a community awareness dinner and silent auction at The Casino at Lakemont Park, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Hollidaysburg YMCA and a “Tee Off for a Cure” golf event at Sinking Valley Country Club.

“We can achieve if we believe,” Cathy Griffith said. “That’s what I tell everybody, that’s kind of our mantra. What is so special about this event is that we’re a group of 500 [volunteers and supporters] who believe that this mountain of pancreatic cancer can be moved.”

Friday night’s community awareness dinner features three prestigious speakers: Dr. A. James Moser, executive director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Institute of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery in Boston; Dr. Michael Barry, director of pastoral care from the Cancer Treatment Center of America the Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia; and Erin Willett, season two semi-finalist on NBC’s “The Voice” and an Ambassador of Hope for the Pancreatic Action Network.

The Griffith Family Foundation fundraising dollars benefits the research project of Dr. Moser and the Alliance of Families Fighting Pancreatic Cancer, a support group founded by Moser.

Moser is a well-known name in the world of pancreatic cancer research. He and his partner, Dr. Herbert Zeh, treated professor Randy Pausch, famous for “The Last Lecture” before his death in 2008. He worked with hospitals across the nation, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, before moving to Beth Israel Deaconess, an affiliate of the Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital. Moser is currently working to open up a multidisciplinary pancreatic surgery center at the hospital.

“It’s [Greg’s] legacy,” Cathy Griffith said. “He provided two beautiful speeches at The Casino, basically asking people to continue the fight. It’s a type of disease that the needle hasn’t really moved since 120 years ago. … Greg said to Dr. Moser, ‘You know, Doc, I know you can’t do much for me, but what can I do for you?’ This is Blair County’s way to say to Dr. Moser that ‘we’re still in this with you.'”

Willett is a speaker that Cathy Griffith had been trying to get since she came to prominence on “The Voice” in 2011. During the taping of that season, Willett’s father, Chuck, died of pancreatic cancer. Even before his death, Willett and his family were involved with the Pancreatic Action Network.

“My mom had found out about them while my dad was still sick, so that’s been the community that I’ve been a part of,” she said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Willett, 24, is originally from Gaithersburg, Md., and now lives in Los Angeles working on her music career.

“Right after I got off the show, I wrote and recorded an EP that I put on iTunes,” she said. “I started writing and I’ve kind of fallen in love with it. I’m kind of finding a passion for writing.”

Cathy Griffith got a hold of Willett through a random meeting with her uncle, local DJ Steve Willett.

“Out of all the world, Erin Willett’s uncle lives in Altoona,” she said. “I was helping out at a YMCA [event] and I asked him if I could hire him. He said he’d donate his services because his brother died of pancreatic [cancer]. I looked at his name and said, “Just a shot in the dark, I watched ‘The Voice,’ are you related to Erin Willett?’ And he said, ‘That’s my niece.’

Steve Willett put the Griffith Foundation in touch with Erin, and Griff’s Run & Gun for a Cure intrigued her from the start.

“I had heard about it last year, but I wasn’t able to do it,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to give back – especially going through what I went through. When you’re in that position, you’re kind of looking for a support system. It’s always nice to come back and meet people from the same kind of community. It’s kind of unfortunate things bringing people together.”

During the Griff’s Community Awareness Dinner, Willett will perform “Amazing Grace,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and one of her original songs.

“I’m excited to perform and it’s nice to share that and use my talents to kind of lift everyone’s spirit,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.