Written by Chris Boyle Wednesday, 18 September 2013 00:00
Long Islanders will be pounding the pavement in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park on Sept. 22 for a great cause—the 3rd annual “Run for Rob,” a 5K race that hopes to put cancer on the run.
Voices Against Brain Cancer, a volunteer-driven group started in 2005 by the Lichtenstein family after they lost their son Gary to brain cancer, is running the event.
“We raise money for innovative brain cancer research and for programs for patients and their families,” said Executive Director Darren Port.“To date, Voices has raised over $10 million for the cause, and we run support programs in multiple cities and states.”
Port said that Run for Rob was launched in 2011 to honor the memory of a special man who dedicated his life to helping others: Dr. Robert Bernstein, a Long Island gynecologist who delivered thousands of babies at North Shore Hospital.
“Unfortunately, he was stricken with Glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor and passed away three years ago,” Port said. “The Run for Rob has been very successful in raising money for cancer research, and we have a great bunch of volunteers who help to make it happen.”
Roz Bernstein, Rob’s widow, is the event founder and sits on the board of Voices. “My husband was extremely physically fit and an avid runner, running anywhere between eight to ten miles a day,” she said. “We had just finished a workout together and he suddenly started to mumble incoherently...I almost thought he was having a stroke.”
According to Roz, Rob had a seizure and became unconscious. A CAT Scan and MRI revealed the truth: he had an inoperable brain tumor. Although he experienced a temporary recovery , the illness progressed, and finally, after fighting for nearly 17 months, Rob passed away in June 2010 at the age of 57. “Rob worked hard but he played hard as well,” Roz said. “It’s sad that he passed away so young, but he lived life to the fullest.”
Pals since the age of 15, Roz and Rob had been married for 37 years; the Brookville couple raised three children together. “He wasn’t my first boyfriend, but he was my best friend growing up,” she said. “As we got older, we realized the fondness and the love that we had for each other. [The run] is an extension of Rob and our life together.”
Michelle Almaliah, a nurse practitioner and Lake Success resident, works with the Long Island Brain Tumor Center, which has become very involved with Voices.
“I’ve been working with brain and spine cancer patients my entire 15-year career,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for working with this patient population, and I see that they and their families need to have the most genuine and compassionate care.”
Almaliah is participating in the Run for Rob this year as a part of “Team Tina,” named after a neighbor’s 8-year-old daughter who succumbed to cancer earlier this year. This poignant gesture is emblematic of how much Almaliah gives of herself every day working with cancer patients.
“It’s one thing to get good medical care, but it’s another to get the emotional support you need, and I’m honored to do that,” she said.
While Rob was fighting his disease, Roz became involved with Voices, eventually joining its board of directors. After her husband passed away, she decided she not only wanted to do something to honor his memory, but to also raise awareness about cancer among her fellow Long Islanders; and “Run for Rob” was born.
“We came up with the idea for the race came about because my husband was an avid runner and an outdoor person,” she said. “It was a way not only to memorialize him, but to also celebrate life.”
Dr. Jai Grewal, a neurooncologist from Roslyn with offices in Lake Success, has been involved with Voices for the past two years. In addition to being a participant in this year’s race, he is also one of several individuals being presented with a humanitarian award by the organization for his work with those suffering from brain cancer and other difficult ailments.
“It’s humbling, being presented with this award,” he said. “I have a sense of what [patients] go through... I see my patients very frequently, and I get to know them and their families. You feel very connected with your patients.”
The Run for Rob started in 2011 and serves not only as a cancer research fundraiser, but as a day of family fun, with games, food, and entertainment. The first year drew over 300 participants and raised more than $100,000; in 2012 over 500 runners pounded the pavement at the event.