A routine oncology appointment proved anything but for Teresa McKeown in March 2016. The Valley Center resident was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Over the next seven months, she failed numerous lines of chemotherapy. By the end of that year, McKeown weighed less than 90 pounds and the tumors clogging her intestine made it nearly impossible to eat or drink.
“I began to wrap up the details of my life,” McKeown said. “I began to write goodbye letters to my children and my husband. I was really ready at that point to die, because that’s where things looked like they were going.”
McKeown was transferred to Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, but her prognosis still seemed dire. As a last-ditch effort, she asked her doctors — Jason Sicklick and Shumei Kato — if there was anything else she could try. With their support, she enrolled in a clinical trial, called I-PREDICT, that offered personalized therapy that perfectly matched her cancer.
After two infusions of a targeted cancer drug, Opdivo, McKeown’s tumor markers shrank dramatically. After eight weeks, she fully recovered.
“For the last two years, I’ve been happily and completely without any evidence of disease,” said McKeown, now 57. “My son graduated from college this year and I’m so thrilled I got to be there and see it. Instead of reading my words of congratulations I wrote him two years ago, he got to hear me tell it to him in person.”
Experimental procedures, like the trial that saved McKeown’s life, are supported in part by the money raised by the Luau & Legends of Surfing Invitational and other fundraising efforts.
On Sunday, Aug. 18, the 26th annual Luau & Legends of Surfing Invitational (still popularly known by its previous name, the Longboard Luau) will bring together over 500 surfers, doctors and cancer survivors at Scripps Pier to catch a few waves, eat, drink and raise money for cancer research. Several local companies will sponsor a team comprised of four surfers starting at $15,000. Each surf team is paired with a surfing legend and competes in a friendly contest.
All proceeds will support research, teaching and clinical programs at Moores. Last year at its 25th anniversary event, over $830,000 was raised — the highest amount raised since the event started in 1994. Over the past 26 years, nearly $9 million total from the event has gone toward Moores, making it one of the most successful surfing fundraisers in the nation.
“The support we receive through the Luau & Legends of Surfing Invitational helps accomplish our mission of saving lives by creating a world where a cancer diagnosis is a bump in the road, not the end of it,” said Moores director Dr. Scott Lippman.
The luau also celebrates pioneers in the industry with its Rell Sunn Award, presented to those who display the qualities shared by the Luau & Legends of Surfing Invitational and the award’s namesake, Rell Kapoilioka’ehukai Sunn — who has made a difference in the battle against cancer and embodies the aloha spirit.
Called the “First Lady of Surfing,” Sunn was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 32 and given only months to live. Rather than giving up, she refused to succumb to the disease and continued to live life to the fullest. (She passed away on Jan. 2, 1998 at the age of 47. Soon after, the award was established in her honor.)
This year’s Rell Sunn awardees, Tony Hunter and UCSD alumnus Brian Druker, contributed to the development of Gleevec, the first cancer drug to target cell growth without harming healthy cells.
IF YOU GO: The festivities kick off at 7 a.m. on Aug. 18 at the Scripps Pier in La Jolla. There will be Polynesian dance performances, live and silent auctions, an awards ceremony, a surfing legends tribute and a special luau menu by Giuseppe Fine Catering. The surfing competition is free for spectators. Tickets are $550 each. (858) 822-6623 or luaulegendsofsurfing.org