John Shemenski is remembered by those who knew him as a precious husband, son, brother, cousin, uncle, friend, colleague and lover of life. An engineer who enjoyed distance running, bowling, water skiing and restoring his old Chevelle, John was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 32. His strength and positive attitude during the two years that followed left such an indelible mark that today, six years after his passing, his legacy continues to propel cancer research forward.
The Shemenski Foundation, established in John’s memory, is an important supporter of the Brain Tumor Center, which is part of both the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute and the UC Cancer Institute. This Saturday the Shemenski Foundation will hold its sixth annual Strike Against Cancer Bowl-A-Thon at Stone Lanes in Norwood, Ohio. Although the bowling portion is sold out, anyone who wishes to support the event is welcome to attend and enjoy refreshments, camaraderie and a silent auction.
During the last three years the Shemenski Foundation has donated $90,000 from its events to the UC Brain Tumor Center. Specifically, the Shemenski Foundation supports bold pilot studies that explore molecular pathways that might lead toward new therapies or a cure.
Jeff Eggleston, president of the Shemenski Foundation, remembers John Shemenski for “the positivity” he exuded, even during his illness. “One of our taglines is ‘Living right now,’” Eggleston says. “It’s something John really embraced. He didn’t complain that he had rotten luck. He rolled with it. He dealt with it, whether it meant engaging in activities that he enjoyed or talking with friends. The thing I remember most during his terrible fight with brain cancer was that when he was talking to you, he was genuinely interested in what you had to say, as if nothing had changed.”
The Shemenski Foundation’s website includes comments from John about his philosophy, which he had emblazoned on his license plates. “My plates say: RT NOW 1,” John explained at the time. “ … Right Now is a special song for me. Corny as it sounds, it’s been my favorite song and became my Theme Song when the cancer hit. Right Now is by the band Van Halen. The song is basically about living for today (Right Now), living your tomorrow today …”
After John’s death, Eggleston and a core group of friends and family established a board and launched the foundation. “In addition to John, all of us had been touched by cancer in one way or another,” Eggleston says. “We were really sick and tired of friends and family having to deal with this. We felt we were a group of relatively smart, passionate, energetic people, and we felt we should be dedicating some time to trying to find a solution and doing what we could to make a bit of difference.”
Ronald Warnick, MD, Medical Director of the UC Brain Tumor Center and the John M. Tew, Jr., Chair in Neurosurgical Oncology, says that gifts from smaller foundations play a critical role in the UC Brain Tumor Center’s ability to launch promising pilot projects that might be viewed as too daring by national institutions. “Pilot grants of $30,000 enable our basic scientists to test their ideas and gather preliminary data that can be used to secure a larger grant from organizations like the National Institutes of Health,” he says.
Knowing that their work matters has kept the Shemenski Foundation energized, Eggleston says. “We have an understanding and appreciation of the role that a small nonprofit can play in the bigger picture of cancer research. The whole ecosystem is a really great way for grassroots volunteers with day jobs to carve out a block of time each year and try to be a part of that difference.
“The typical person thinks researchers get money from hospitals or a few wealthy people or the American Cancer Society. But a $1 million grant from a cancer institute does not just fall into your lap. You have to do some work and show positive results. This is a gap that non-profits like the Shemenski Foundation can fill.”
— Cindy Starr