Sisters Charlene Sabia Lebo and Suzanne Sabia DeSantie, both of Fairfield, have worked for the past few years to serve local families affected by pancreatic cancer and to honor the memories of their husbands -- and this year is no different.
The third annual "A Night of Music" concert is Saturday, Nov. 17 at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The event raises money to benefit the Lebo-DeSantie Center for Liver and Pancreatic Disease at St. Vincent's Medical Center and celebrates the lives of Keith Lebo and Jim DeSantie.
About Jim DeSantie and Keith Lebo: Brothers-in-Law, Friends
The two men -- who were not only brothers-in-law, but friends -- were both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within a year of each other: Jim in March 2008, Keith in February 2009.
The men passed away within a year of each other. Keith died on Aug. 25, 2009 at the age of 59; Jim on Aug. 3, 2010 at the age of 66.
Following Keith's death, Charlene Lebo was looking for a way to both honor his memory and to "do something" to help other families affected by the disease.
Pancreatic cancer -- sometimes called a "silent" disease because symptoms may not present themselves until the cancer has advanced -- has a grim prognosis: only 4 percent of patients will be alive in five years, according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
"There are not a lot of survivors speaking up for themselves," Charlene told Patch in a recent interview. " We thought, 'we're healthy and we're going to do something'."
How A Night of Music Came to Be
Keith was a musician and songwriter, so Charlene knew they had the "tools and materials to do a rock concert" in his memory. But the idea for A Night of Music didn't take shape until Charlene and Suzanne were another family member in 2010 at St. Vincent's Medical Center. Charlene ran into Dr. Stuart Marcus, who had provided a second opinion when Keith was being treated at Yale Hospital.
Marcus recognized Charlene and invited her and Suzanne to take a tour of the newly opened Elizabeth F. Pfriem SWIM Center for Cancer Care. By the time the tour was over, the three had formulated the idea for the Night of Music event.
"We talked with the people from SWIM, learned about Keith's love for music," Marcus, who is now the president of St. Vincent's Medical Center, said. And so the planning began.
Jim was being treated at St. Vincent's at the time the idea took shape, and the sisters decided the event would benefit the facility's Center for Cancer Care and its patients.
"We moved full force ahead," Suzanne said.
The first Night of Music event -- held in November 2010 at the Wesport Country Playhouse -- "was not a sad event," Suzanne said.
"We're celebrating lives, having fun. We're enlightened by what we're doing," she added.
During that inaugural fundraiser, Susan Davis, then the president of St. Vincent's, announced that the hospital would create a center dedicated to liver and pancreatic diseases: the Lebo-DeSantie Center for Liver and Pancreatic Disease.
Some of the monies raised by the Night of Music concerts have gone toward the development of the center and the services offered to patients -- including music therapy.
The music therapy program kicked off earlier this year when musician and Fairfield native Christopher Robin played an acoustic guitar for patients at St. Vincent's.
"You could see in their eyes how much they appreciated it," Marcus said.
"Whenever he was in the room, patients 'forgot' what they were going through," Charlene added.
The plan is to expand the music therapy program and bring in some part-time therapists, Marcus said.
The Lebo-DeSantie Center will also offer nurse navigators for patients. The role has been established for those diagnosed with complicated illnesses like breast cancer.
"The nurse navigators follow patients through various stages of complex treatments so they don't get lost in the system," Marcus said.
'We're Trying to Help People Dealing With This Locally'
The funds raised by a Night of Music also go toward alleviating the financial stress patients and their families face during cancer treatment. Similar to how SWIM Across the Sound helps patients and families, a Night of Music raises money that helps patients pay the bills, buy groceries, and take of other needs in the midst of their treatments.
"Our event is about helping out the local communities -- the families who need help paying the bills," Suzanne said. "We're trying to help people dealing with this locally."
The Night of Music event on Saturday includes an evening of appetizers, entertainment, and classic rock -- featuring performances by local bands and musicians including Christopher Robin, The Doug Wahlberg Band, Holden Truelove, Johnny Boots, Remember September and Daniela Cardillo.
"Everyone who is helping, performing -- they're doing it from their heart," Charlene said.
Tickets are $50, $75, and $100 (students are half-price) and can be purchased here. The doors open at 6 p.m.
A guitar signed by Michael Bolton & Dave Mason will be auctioned off during the event.