TAMPA — Arnie Goodman sat inside his doctor’s office eight years ago in dismay. A health enthusiast and physician, Goodman was just handed a tough piece of news — he had multiple myeloma, a form of cancer.
“I was just thinking: ‘It’s not possible,’” Goodman said Sunday afternoon, recounting that day in 2006.
Goodman has since channeled that frustration into the Sweetwater Paddle for the Cure, an annual event in its sixth year that raises money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and Be the Match, an organization that registers potential bone marrow donors.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells in bone marrow. Plasma cells normally produce white blood cells used by the body to ward off sickness. The cancer is not curable, but can be treated.
Sunday at Davis Islands’ Marjorie Park Marina, was the third and final day of the event, a joint effort by Beat Cancer with a Paddle, Roosevelt Regatta, and the Stewards Foundation.
In six years, more than $200,000 has been raised for the Multiple Myeloma Foundation and Be the Match..
“Three things,” Goodman said, checking off the highlights of the event. “We’re raising awareness about (multiple myeloma), we’re raising money for research and drug development, which is really important to me. And the third thing is, hopefully, we’re putting more people into the bone marrow registry.”
At least 150 people participated in this year’s events, which included a family kayak course of 2 and 5 miles, standup paddleboards, outrigger canoes and Dragon Boat races, among other activities.
Several hundred filled the park to watch Sunday.
Greg Unger has participated in the event each year. He was prompted after his father, Lawrence Unger, who lives in New York, was diagnosed with the disorder.
More than a dozen family members have made the trip from New York to participate in the past, he said.
“What a great event to have all of your family and friends come out and support,” Greg Unger said. “It brings awareness for the research of the disease.”
He said kayaking has always been a family passion, so it was natural to support the event.
Last week former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw revealed he was diagnosed with the disease.
Marc Silver, a senior community representative for Be the Match, wasn’t sure how many people were swabbed during the weekend.
“It only takes one to be that match,” Silver said. “It’s just finding that one.”
And this weekend’s crowd was the perfect environment.
“The best chance of someone being a match is a young, healthy person,” Silver said. “Medical conditions disqualify some people so we’re really looking for the 18- to 44-year-olds. Those are the best chance for being the best match and this crowd is perfect for that.”
A person who agrees to be added to the national donor registry remains until they turn 61.
Goodman got the idea to start the event not long after his diagnosis. A friend told him about Pat Pedraja, then a 12-year-old from Palm Harbor, diagnosed with leukemia. In 2007, Pedraja traveled across the country in an RV to get minorities to join the national registry. His efforts helped add about 8,000 new donors and raise more than $140,000.
“I said, ‘Geez, if a 12-year-old kid can do something, I can do something,’” Goodman said chuckling. “And I was a paddler and kayaker at the time when I got sick.”