DUNEDIN — Lisa Ioannou has been a long-time supporter of cancer charities, but she never expected to be diagnosed with the deadly disease, let alone at the same time as her then-husband.
“He was actually in the operating room getting surgery on his thyroid cancer when I got the phone call from my doctor that I needed to see him and it was just my worst nightmare come true,” Ioannou said. “I had just donated my hair and never expected that by the following year I’d be totally bald, which was pretty ironic. Now we’re both about five years in remission, and I’ve learned that to get through it’s mind over matter a lot of times.”
Lisa and Mike Ioannou have helped share that outlook with their community on the first weekend of October for the past six years at Mike and Lisa’s Cricketers, their British pub and restaurant in Dunedin. Cut Out Cancer weekend is a three-day festival to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Center of Tampa and The Morton Plant Mease Foundation’s mammogram voucher program.
This year’s turnout exceeded expectations, Lisa Ioannou said, with close to 800 people coming through the restaurant and festival each day to purchase raffle tickets, participate in a Dunk Tank contest, listen to local bands and fill out pink paper hearts with messages for family members who have fought cancer. This year 30 people donated 8 inches or more of their hair to Locks of Love and www.childrenwithhairloss.com during the event, and hundreds more participated in an evening 5k walk around the Dunedin Causeway.
The event got off the ground about seven years ago, when Lisa and some other women who worked at the restaurant decided they would donate their hair to Locks of Love as a group and ended up recruiting more than 20 men, women and children to join them. When Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer later that year, the weekend event became a personal mission to fight back against the disease.
“This event is my everything,” Lisa Ioannou said. “I think about this and look forward to this all year long, because every year I meet so many people that are going through the same thing. Really, I think the idea behind it is cancer sucks, we all know that, but this is our own way of using it as an excuse to have some fun while we fight back. It reminds you that life is short so lets enjoy it.”
It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way, said Theohari Poulakidas, a bartender at the pub and co-coordinator of the event. The bar has always felt like a family, she said, but that family has expanded throughout the entire community since Mike and Lisa decided to take up the cause.
“I’ve been making phone calls asking for donations, and every person I talked to knew a family member or a friend or a coworker who had cancer. So many people said the call was heaven-sent,” Poulakidas said. “It’s overwhelming to see how many people come together.”
This year’s event has seen more support and donations than ever before, with hundreds of sponsors and volunteers and donations that ranged from cash gifts to meat to serve over the weekend, Poulakidas said. Kim Tutsch, a longtime patron of Cricketers volunteered every day of the event, helping participants fill out messages to hang on two “hope trees” — a magnolia and a crepe myrtle that will be planted on the Pinellas Trail in honor of those who continue to battle or have lost their fight with cancer. Tutsch lost a grandmother, grandfather, aunt and her father to cancer.
“This is a very sentimental event for me, I filled out a heart for my dad that said things like ‘You fought a hard battle and were taken too soon. We love you and miss you,’” Tutsch said. “You read these messages people have left, there was even a 9-year-old boy that filled one out for himself because he’s battling cancer, and it’s hard not to tear up, but it feels good to be doing something to help.”