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On a night that celebrated the hope that comes from cancer research, the Chuckstrong initiative raised more than $1.7 million for research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Chuckstrong raises more than $1.7M for IU cancer research in its 11th year

chuck pagano holds a microphone onstage at the chuckstrong gala

INDIANAPOLIS—On a night that celebrated the hope that comes from cancer research, the Chuckstrong initiative raised more than $1.7 million for research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hosted by the Indianapolis Colts, Jim Irsay and former head coach Chuck Pagano on April 21 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the 2023 Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala brought total giving to nearly $14 million for cancer research.

The Chuckstrong initiative, now in its 11th year, has enabled the cancer center to accelerate center research by recruiting top-level researchers from around the country and purchasing sophisticated laboratory instruments used by researchers to make advances against the disease. (Read more about the impact.)

Among the more than 400 guests at the event were cancer research supporters, Colts fans, cancer survivors, researchers and philanthropists. Notable guests included former Colts players Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, wide receivers coach and Colts legend Reggie Wayne, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis who retired from the Baltimore Ravens.

During the dinner program, Pagano was joined on stage by a fellow cancer survivor and friend, Washington Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. Diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in August 2020, Rivera remains cancer free. He underwent treatment including chemotherapy and did not miss a game during the 2020 season.

“We are proud of our continued partnership with the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Pete Ward, chief operating officer of the Indianapolis Colts and chair of the cancer center’s development board, said. “We know the powerful impact that cancer research holds, and we are honored to play a role in helping to raise funds for the world-class researchers at IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.”

For Jim Kish, the impact of world-renowned research at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is personal, which guests learned during a moving video. Kish was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in June 2018 and told he would likely only live one year. A Phase I clinical trial at the cancer center changed that in 2020. He and his wife, Sharon Kish, now are enjoying trips to Disney with their grandkids and many more good days.

“We believe not only that research cures cancer, but that philanthropy and community support at Chuckstrong will make an immediate impact with cancer research,” Kelvin Lee, MD, director of the cancer center, said. “I’m thankful to the Colts and everyone else for their generosity.”

Top-level “touchdown” sponsors for the Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala were the Indianapolis Colts; Nichols Colver – BJ and Lori Nichols and Bob and Lisa Colver; DEEM; Huntington Bank; Republic Airways; and Schwarz Partners.

Pagano’s story

When Chuck Pagano shared his diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia in September 2012, the Chuckstrong movement quickly began and provided an opportunity for Indianapolis to visibly support Pagano as his team rallied and marched toward the playoffs. Pagano underwent treatments at IU under the guidance of Larry Cripe, MD, a hematologist and cancer center researcher. Pagano returned to his head coaching duties on Dec. 24, 2012 – a day that inspired and captivated all who have been touched by cancer. More than a decade later, Pagano remains cancer free.

About the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of only 53 in the nation. The prestigious comprehensive designation recognizes the center’s excellence in basic, clinical, and population research, outstanding educational activities, and effective community outreach program across the state. It is also one of only 33 members of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. As a member, the center’s physicians have a role in determining the recognized standard of clinical care for cancer patients. The center is the central hub for cancer research and education across Indiana University.