Grateful survivor, determined advocate
This is George's story...
“How can you say 'no' to Massey?”
That’s the question that drives George Emerson’s commitment to supporting VCU Massey Cancer Center. Emerson, a local real estate developer, five-year survivor, grateful patient, donor, fundraiser, and Advisory Board member, is one of Massey’s most vocal advocates. He is now serving in what could be his most impactful role yet….Massey’s chief volunteer advocate to the state legislature.
Diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the throat in December 2005, Emerson elected to be treated at Massey after extensively researching his options, including traveling to other top cancer centers and talking with numerous doctors. The more he learned about the challenging nature of his treatment, the more he realized the value of having Massey in his backyard. “The treatment capabilities available at Massey were absolutely top-notch—I was so grateful to be able to elect to stay at home with my family and friends. That’s when I fully grasped how important it is that we have an NCI Center right here in Richmond.”
Massey is one of only 67 cancer centers in the country designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a prestigious acknowledgment of the leading research into preventing, treating and ultimately curing cancer. This research directly translates into the most advanced cancer care.
Though Emerson’s course of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, was difficult, it proved successful, and there is no doubt in his mind that he received the best care available. A strong sense of gratitude naturally took root.
On March 10, 2006 he received his last treatment at Massey. Soon after, he was walking through the pro shop at the clubhouse of The Highlands, a community in southern Chesterfield County that Emerson developed, when a group of ladies approached him and asked for his support for a golf tournament they wanted to hold to benefit a breast cancer organization. Emerson said “I’ll help you, but I think we should support Massey.” After sharing his experience and all he had learned, it didn’t take much to convince the golfers of the great value in supporting research at Massey.
Emerson’s passion was contagious and The Highlands-Massey Classic was born. Beginning with a golf tournament that summer of 2006, the event has grown to include an annual dinner and auction, 5k run, bridge tournament, and holiday house tour and bazaar. The community’s commitment to the cause is evident, reaching the milestone of raising more than $1 million for Massey in just five years.
As the Highlands-Massey Classic was growing in size and success, Emerson joined the Massey Advisory Board and took on greater leadership roles. “The more I’ve learned about all that’s happening in cancer research, and the potential of Massey Cancer Center to be a leader in finding a cure, the more I’m determined to work to obtain the support we need.”
Emerson’s current role as chair of the legislative committee for the Massey Advisory Board has him leading Massey’s effort to obtain increased support from a critical source—the General Assembly.
“It’s not hard to ask for support for Massey—there are so many good and exciting things to share, that once you start sharing the facts, most people want to know how they can help,” says Emerson. “It’s the same with legislators…I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to fund Massey, the more difficult question is how.”
“When George talks, people listen,” says Dr. Gordon Ginder, director of Massey Cancer Center. “His message is very powerful because it comes from a very personal place—but it’s a personal message combined with hard facts and an unwavering belief in the need that is so convincing. Massey couldn’t ask for a better advocate than George.”
“Recognizing Massey as a cancer resource for the Commonwealth is a big deal. Our NCI status is a big deal. We must educate our friends and neighbors, and we must educate our legislators so they can help fund this resource that impacts each and every Virginian in the most personal way—it’s life and death, what could be more important?”
Emerson acknowledges the very personal nature of his commitment to Massey. “I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here today if people before me hadn’t invested in cancer research. I’m in this for my children and my grandchildren—we’re saving thousands more lives today than we were 15 years ago. Just imagine what will be discovered in the next 15 years—but nothing can happen without funding.”
As he celebrates five years of being cancer free, Emerson has no doubt his support for Massey will continue for years to come. “When I was undergoing treatment, I reached a point when I didn’t think I could take any more. My doctor said to me ‘George, this cancer isn’t taking any days off and neither am I.’ That’s how I feel about fundraising for Massey—we can’t afford any days off.” Emerson adds, “I don’t know who will raise that last dollar that finds a cure for cancer…but I don’t want to be the guy who stops too soon.”