On the evening of Tuesday, October 18, hundreds of guests from the beauty, health, entertainment and medical industries were filing into the Mandarin Oriental New York. Waiting for them in the ballroom — which boasted a dazzling view of the New York skyline — was The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Champions for Change Gala.
For some, this was their second, fifth, or even tenth gala. For others, like me, it was their first. When I joined The Skin Cancer Foundation in September, I learned pretty quickly that this event was the event for us. It was not only our biggest fundraiser, but a chance to network, honor trailblazers in the industry, laugh and, above all, celebrate. It seemed everyone who stepped into the Mandarin was ready to do just that. We were there to honor two Champions for Change: Dr. Perry Robins, founder and president of the Foundation, and Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf, one of our most devoted and generous supporters. Cocktail servers made the rounds, introductions were made and old friends greeted each other, all with a hum of energy that quickly proved contagious.
I, as a member of The Foundation’s Marketing Communications team, was stationed at perhaps the most exciting corner of the party, where a dozen photographers jockeyed for photos of celebs, honorees and doctors. When Witney Carson (Dancing with the Stars) and Sam Champion (The Weather Channel) posed together, there were so many camera flashes I could barely see afterward — something I experienced again when Famke Janssen (X-Men), Sebastian Stan (Marvel’s Captain America movies) and Condola Rashad (Billions) stopped by.
I didn’t have time to be starstruck (okay, maybe a little bit), since the sound of a dinner gong was already signaling that we should make our way upstairs for the second half of the evening. Guests were chatty, lingering a bit before finally finding their tables and sitting down to hear jazz vocalist Catherine Russell open the night’s program. Sam Champion then hopped onto the stage, making jokes and introducing the evening’s many speakers. Witney Carson and Olympic champion Summer Sanders both shared touching stories about their personal experiences with melanoma, while Drs. Sarnoff and Moy announced Allure as the winner of the Foundation’s media award for excellence in skin cancer coverage.
Perhaps the most impactful moment of the evening came when Dr. Robins took the stage. He spoke with an easy humor about the many friends and colleagues he had in the room, and shared his journey of taking The Skin Cancer Foundation from an idea to an international success. He did, however, say he had a bittersweet announcement. To gasps from the audience, Dr. Robins announced that he would be stepping down as president, passing the torch to his colleague and one-time student, Dr. Deborah Sarnoff. Even though I hadn’t gotten to meet Dr. Sarnoff yet, I felt very lucky to witness our founder pass the torch to someone who would, by all accounts, continue his tradition of greatness.
Before I knew it, dessert had been devoured (rightfully so), and the evening was officially at an end. The crowd lingered for a while, taking photos and hugging. People congratulated Dr. Robins and Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf on their Champions for Change awards, exchanged phone numbers with new friends and dug eagerly into gift bags as they made their way out. As I passed out said bags, I didn’t see one person leave without a smile.
My first gala with The Foundation was a whirlwind of meeting people, learning things and running around in heels. One thing I know for sure, though, is that I’m already looking forward to my next.
Sam Champion has hosted The Foundation’s gala before, so he gave everyone a taste of what the event was like for a veteran.