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Actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson champion cancer survivors at Stanford event

Nine years ago, former Stanford oncologist Ellie Guardino, MD, PhD, was putting on a gown to prepare for an event when she reached back to remove the sales tag and felt a suspicious mole on her back that felt “different.”

That life-changing moment sent her down a path to a diagnosis of stage 3 melanoma, which has since spread to her spine, ribs and hips. But Guardino, who was honored at a Stanford Women's Cancer Center event last week, hasn't paused to bemoan her fate, as she relentlessly pushes forward with her career of helping advance cancer treatment for the legions of patients who already have benefited from her research.

“I live my life with optimism and faith,” she said in a video that was aired at the event. “It’s hope and high expectations that will make this world a better place. There’s way too much to do for me to have cancer. I can’t sit around and I won’t. My passion to change the outcome for patients is what gives me the resilience to carry on.”

Her grit and determination were celebrated by the event’s master of ceremonies, famed actor Tom Hanks, who championed all the women who have survived cancer, including his own wife, actress and singer Rita Wilson.

“There is a lot of faith and hope on display in this room and an extraordinary amount of courage,” Hanks told a crowd of 380 at the Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club. “I don’t think anybody can face the emperor of all maladies without that… Each of you who can call yourselves a survivor is an inspiration to the lives of us all.”

Hanks, who is also a producer and director, brought his unique brand of humor, wit, charm and pathos to the event. In introducing event chairs Lisa Schatz and Fran Codispoti, he called them the team of Schatz-Codispoti, “the greatest name for a cop movie I’ve ever heard,” saying he was going to turn them into the “stars of a new HBO film.”

He introduced his wife as the “most courageous woman I’ve known,” saying her 2015 breast cancer diagnosis turned her into a “lioness, a fierce beast who pursued what had to be one step at a time.”

Wilson, who recently has been focusing on her new career as a songwriter, performed a mix of lively and bittersweet songs with her band, concluding with the ballad, “When I’m gone, throw me a party.”

The event was expected to raise more than $1 million for the cancer center, founded in 2008 by Jonathan Berek, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the center director. Berek, who has recently turned his attention to film making, produced the moving documentary, “Legacy of Hope,” chronicling Guardino’s journey through cancer.  The event’s organizing committee announced a new fund in her honor with a $100,000 seed grant to advance cancer research.

Guardino, now vice president of safety science oncology at Genentech/Roche, continues her cancer treatment while pursuing the development and testing of drugs that she hopes will be the key to unlocking the disease. “I am so grateful to be here and I promise I’ll continue to fight,” she said in thanking everyone for their support. The crowd rose to its feet.

Previously: How Campaign for Stanford Medicine dollars are helping transform cancer care and There's something about Harry: Harry Connick Jr. sings in support of women's cancer research
Photo of Tom Hanks, Ellie Guardino and Rita Wilson by Claudine Gossett for Drew Altizer Photography

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