LOS ANGELES -- "Cancer thinks it has us beat," Matt Damon said.
With those first six words, the third biennial Stand Up To Cancer primetime telethon got under way Friday inside the Shrine Auditorium, bringing together stars from entertainment and sports, "dream team" scientists on the front edge of research, cancer survivors and everyday citizens who all share a commitment to prove otherwise and collectively find a cure for the disease in our lifetimes.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, MLB executive vice president Frank Robinson and various club owners were in attendance, along with a long list of stars that included 2012 Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas and entertainers Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Sofia Vergara, Seth Rogen, Alicia Keys, Julia Roberts, Eric Stonestreet, Tim McGraw, Ray Romano, Felicity Huffman, Simon Baker, Joe Manganiello, Chelsea Handler, Max Greenfield, Stacy Keibler, Jordana Brewster, Alison Sweeney, Dana Delany, Marg Helgenberger, Rocco DiSpirito, Diem Brown, Masi Oka and Ana Maria Polo.
"Today means the world to me, because this is such an incredible event," Franklin, a Colorado high schooler and Rockies fan, told MLB.com on the red carpet. "When they asked me to be a part of it, hands down I was so excited, it was absolutely yes. There are so many people dealing who can help, and this is important to make a difference."
Franklin was an inspiration to many as she amassed four swimming gold medals for the U.S. in London. When asked if this might be a different way for her to inspire others, she replied: "I think so. I would like to think of it like that. I think being out here to support Stand Up To Cancer is so important. I'm so happy to be here."
Almost 4,500 people are diagnosed with cancer daily in the U.S. SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, is a movement created to raise funds to accelerate groundbreaking cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. Utilizing the assets of the entertainment industry in unique ways, SU2C is engaging Americans of all income levels and walks of life, creating a collective and supercharged effort to beat cancer as a team. Donations are accepted now, and 100 percent goes to research grants.
Earlier in the week, MLB launched a "Baseball Believes" video campaign to further support that organization with starring appearances by Steve Carell, Colin Hanks and Ken Jeong.
Six video spots began airing on MLB.com, MLB Network, FOX and ESPN and will continue through the 2013 season. MLB and its 30 clubs have contributed more than $30 million since SU2C's inception in '08, and each of the spots ends with a call to action for fans to join baseball in the belief that cancer can be stricken in our lifetimes.
"This campaign is a part of Major League Baseball's unwavering efforts to support and help empower Stand Up To Cancer in its noble work fighting all forms of cancer through the spirit of collaboration," Selig said. "We are proud that the most memorable and improbable moments in postseason history can be used as a way to inspire people to believe that anything is possible, including an end to cancer."
On the red carpet, one celebrity after another stood up and gave examples of friends and loved ones who have been stricken with cancer.
"I'm literally alive because of events like this," said Ethan Zohn, former winner of a CBS' "Survivor" and a cancer survivor. "Sometimes when you make a donation, you think it's going into this black hole, this giant organization and who knows where it goes. I'm living proof that all your money is going to good work. It's literally swirling around inside me, because I've been on some experimental drugs that have been funded by Stand Up To Cancer.
"One of the hardest things is, sometimes you lose hope. I was diagnosed with cancer, I beat it, I relapsed and now I've beat it again. So in those dark times, you're thinking, 'Man, I'm running out of options.' ... Then on the flip side, you see the love and support, and seeing Stand Up To Cancer and their partnership with Major League Baseball ... those partnerships give you hope that there are complete strangers out there busting their butt to help save my life."
The telethon has created a platform to show what the dream-team scientists have been doing with the funds, citing advances with the expectation of much more. The American Association for Cancer Research, the world's largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer, is the scientific partner of SU2C.
"We are moving at such a pace, and there is a potential paradigm shift," said Dr. Patricia LoRusso, director of the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics and professor of medicine at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine. "Even my own daughter was diagnosed. Maybe this is my opportunity to make that difference for her.
"I saw cancer as my enemy. ... It is more of a driving force now than it has ever been."
Pearce Quesenberry, an SU2C youth ambassador, was in the green room during the show and interviewed celebs about their battle with cancer and what being at the telethon meant to them.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with medulloblastoma brain cancer at the age of 10. She went through treatment for a year and has been four years out of treatment now and has no evidence of disease.
"Because there are so many other kids who are going through this, and so many other people getting sick and having cancer every day, I think it's just important that we give back so nobody has to go through this anymore," Quesenberry said.
This is the fifth year that SU2C has been in the business of raising money to get it into the hands of the scientists working on the front lines. SU2C co-founder Sherry Lansing said she remembers the 2008 meeting in the Commissioner's Office like it was yesterday.
"We would not be here without Major League Baseball. My gratitude is enormous," she said to the MLB.com cameras on the red carpet. "I still remember the first meeting with Bud Selig, and I still remember Sue Selig sitting next to him, and MLB was the first people who gave us money, and you gave us credibility. ... I want to thank every team, I want to thank Bud, I want to thank everyone who has made Stand Up To Cancer such a successful organization.
"I hope someday we'll be out of business, that someday we will have all done such a good job in raising money that scientists will have enough money to find a cure for this disease. We are about the only organization that wants to go out of business."
There was a considerable MLB presence at the Shrine. In addition to the Commissioner and many of his top officials, there was A's owner Lew Wolff, Peter and Tom Seidler of the Padres' new ownership group and Braves chairman emeritus Bill Bartholomay. Dennis Gilbert, the longtime former agent, represented the White Sox as special assistant to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
"It's real important to baseball," Gilbert said. "For me especially, I'm a colon cancer survivor, so it's extremely important for me and my wife."
What would he tell people who are fighting cancer?
"That I'd support you, and you can beat it, just think about anything other than whatever cancer you have," Gilbert said.
Jillian Michaels said she lost three grandparents to cancer, but she added that she chooses to focus on her three friends who have survived the disease.
"I'm standing up for the survivors, I'm focused on being positive and raising money and helping more people beat this," she said.
"Cancer is something that does not discriminate. It goes after men, women, white, African-American, Latino, Asian, you name it. Because of that, it's something that also has to bring us all together, because it's going to require all of our efforts together to beat this thing, and we will."