Part I: A New Lease on Life (pun intended)
Are you the kind of person who thinks things happen for a reason? Len Bellavia wasn’t. He’s more like your classic mover and shaker – the kind of guy who knows everyone, who people listen to – because it’s so clear the minute you talk to him that he really knows his stuff.
Len is a lawyer in the automotive industry. When he got a conflicting result between his prostate biopsy (treatable low-grade prostate cancer) and his MRI (comprehensive metastatic prostate cancer), he took matters into his own hands and booked himself an appointment at the best facility around, to clear things up. There, his bone biopsy came back positive for metastatic prostate cancer.
“The worst moment of my life,” says Len, “worse than hearing the news, was having to tell my daughters that I was going to die.”
Weeks later, after finding out that he didn’t qualify for a clinical trial, Len started the business of getting his affairs in order. He was at work, packing up his desk so his family didn’t have to, when he got the call. “There’s been a horrendous mistake,” the doctor said.
Turns out Len’s test results were read wrong. “When you’re told you have cancer,” says Len, “you wonder if it’s all a bad dream. Turns out it was.” Upon detailed analysis doctors found that Len’s scans mimicked cancer, but was not in fact metastatic cancer. “I opened the door to my office and ran down the hallway. In 30 years, I’ve never run down the hallway of my law firm. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell the news to my family.”
After being successfully treated for low grade prostate cancer, and with this new lease on life, Len decided to turn something negative into something positive. “This was a wake up call to do something good for other people,” says Len. “Being around other patients who weren’t so fortunate made me feel the pain of other families with metastatic disease, and it made me appreciate the need to help ressearchers develop better treatments.”
So Len did some research and found the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s fundraising platform, Many vs Cancer, was the perfect place to make a difference. That’s when he started Cruisin’ For a Cure.
Part II: Making a Difference
“I wanted to use my influence in the auto industry to do some good,” says Len, “I feel I was spared for a reason. I have forged relationships with people who are very philanthropic and community minded.”
Len’s “Cruisin’ for a Cure” is a car show that displays both classic and exotic vehicles, a hobby of Len’s. All proceeds go to fund the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s cutting-edge research, through Many vs Cancer, PCF’s community fundraising arm. Using his business savvy, Len came up with a plan for the show that raised money for charity but also was a great sales and marketing tool for the car dealers that participated.
“You can get so busy in life, not realizing there is real joy in helping others. In my case I had to get hit over the head. Cancer can strike anyone: poor, rich, strong, urban, rural. You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference. You just have to have a good idea, something you love, and the ability to devote a little bit of your time. We all know more people than we think. Look at how many holiday cards you write out – it doesn’t take much to create an event, especially if you enlist people who want to help. Deputize your friends! Get them each to bring two other people, and not everyone has to contribute a lot of money. I’ve spent my whole life taking care of myself and my family. But taking care of others was not on my radar. Now it is.”
Len, being Len, went above and beyond of course. He didn’t just ask a few friends to join in; he gave his employees paid time off to help; he reached out to hundreds of car dealerships, and got Windham Ski Resorts in upstate New York to offer up its venue.
Last year Len raised $25,000. This year he’s perfected his model, and he’s going for even more. “We’re simplifying it and asking every dealer to donate $100.” It’s easy to see how this small donation can add up, especially if you’ve got big goals, like Len: he’s asking all 16,000 dealers in the U.S. to contribute. “It’s expected that prostate cancer can be eradicated in a matter of years,” says Len, “I want my friends in the auto industry to help carry the ball over the goal line.”
“I wake up every morning with a renewed mindset,” says Len. “It’s so easy to take things for granted, I take nothing for granted anymore.”