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Charity, Cancer, Haiti and Partners in Health

I had trouble getting to the fundraising event we had today in Tribeca. Chambers Street Wines, David Bowler Wine and Louis/Dressner jointly sponsored a wine tasting to benefit Partners in Health. PIH has been doing amazing work in Haiti since 1987 and has transcended charity to create an entirely new model of self-help and reliance.

Anyhow, I was stuck in a cab in downtown Manhattan trying to get to our event. The problem is that I have trouble taking the subway, because I have limited mobility in my right leg. Unfortunately, I have a brain tumor, which seemingly has been successfully treated, but which did permanent damage to my left leg. Walking up and down subway stairs is very difficult for me and happily, as a wealthy wine importer, I can afford to scoot around town with yellow cabs.

But today, downtown Manhattan was jammed by thousands of people walking in the Eighth Annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. My taxi, commandeered by an excellent and seasoned driver, couldn't get anywhere.

I gave thought to participating in an organization fighting Cancer after I found out I had brain cancer. These organizations really do raise money and really help people. Although, I think it is unfortunate that Avon calls their event the "Walk for Breast Cancer." I know this will seem like nitpicking but this gives the horrible impression that Avon and those thousands of walkers are advocating Breast Cancer. Shouldn't they call it the "Walk Against Breast Cancer?"

When I was a kid my parents used to go to Leukemia charity events. They would tell me they were going to a dance for Leukemia or a Dinner for Leukemia. Finally, when I was a young teen, I asked that what sort of sadistic people go to events for Leukemia! I was relieved to learn that these were actually events against Leukemia.

Which brings me back to my Brain Cancer. The wonderful think about Brain Cancer is that it strikes even wealthy Republicans, eccentric rich Tea Party members and everyone across the economic and political spectrum. As does Breast Cancer. It is great to walk or bike or paddle or whatever people feel they need to do to raise money. Because just sending a check is too simple and doesn't make you feel good in a public way and promotional activity develops momentum and brings in bucks.

My point is, that enormous sums of money are being thrown at the diseases that touch the wealthy and the advanced industrial world. Science has not come up with a cure for cancer or a cure for the common cold. But the resources are there and will be used because everyone is motivated to eradicate sniffles, brain cancer and breast cancer.

I for one have benefited from these resources. Roughly two years ago, I was told I had no chance of living to celebrate the birthday I celebrated three weeks ago. My number was up.

It turned out differently. I'm still around and have the doctors and staff of NYU Cancer Institute to thank for my treatment, longevity and hopeful recovery. I limp about and have to take taxis and can't ride my bike, but it could be worse. As a wealthy wine importer I am blessed with a good medical insurance and know enough good doctors to make sure I received great care.

I was initially hospitalized after having a convulsion at a fancy wine dinner, which quickly lead to scans and MRIs displaying my tumor in its full glory. A social worker at the hospital asked if I wanted spiritual help. I inquired what my options were and was told a Rabbi or a Priest. As a lifelong member of the Jewish persuasion, I was fairly certain what the Rabbi would tell me so I asked for a Priest.

At around 12:30 in the morning, a Priest from Ghana came down to chat. I've always admired the Sermon on the Mount and the Catholic notion of penance and humility, even though I'm an atheist. I spent ninety minutes with the Priest discussing how I could do something meaningful for people I did not know and would never know. People who could use the help of a wealthy wine importer who has had a fairly blessed lifetime.

My feeling was that if I was going to die soon, I had much to be thankful for, that I had lived a charmed existence. I love my wife, my kids, my dog, some friends, less family and my work. The Priest tried to inject Jesus Christ into the discussion several times, but I was able to keep our talk on track.

I knew of Partners in Health because my son had started university in Montréal in 2004 and I heard about the rock group Arcade Fire. Their co-founder, Régine Chassagne, was born in Haiti and I read how the group was doing benefit concerts where all the proceeds went to Partners in Health, an organization working in Haiti. I did a web search and began following the work of PIH.

I decided to do something, no matter how small, with PIH. For months, I was very busy with chemotherapy, radiation and crawling back to shape and was largely self-preoccupied. I sent in some money, organized a couple of events, but didn't do enough.

I am using this space and today's benefit to ask my readers to contribute to PIH. I am asking my friends in the wine trade to organize events where I will be happy to attend and insult your customers as I do at every public tasting I attend. It seems hypocritical to do a wine tasting to raise money for people in such dire circumstances, but I'm a wine importer and that's the skill I have. Wine is historically a sacrament and for me a powerful sacrament for humanity not ritual. Lets combine our love of wine with work to help Haitians.

Charities come and go and Haiti must not become the flavor of last month. Please send me e-mail and lets figure out what we can do together to benefit Partners in Health.

The work they do in Haiti has made a difference in so many thousands of lives since 1987. It has changed the lives of people who have no resources, people who wealthy Republicans and Democrats don't give a damn about. People who truly need help and can find it if we help Partners in Health train the doctors, nurses and build the hospitals to change lives.

This will not make us better people, more righteous or morally superior. I will continue to be a complete asshole. But providing basic medical care in the Third World through an organization that delivers will help others become better and healthier.

Their motto is:


Their vision is:

At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.

Partners in Health

thanks for recommending PIH

You are the most kind-hearted complete asshole I know. I've made a couple of small donations since you first recommended this organization. Thank you for suggesting PIH.

Joe Dressner - Captain Tumor Man!

Hi, I'm Joe Dressner the famous wine importer and I have brain cancer!

I already have a wine blog and frankly wine is such a luxury business that I hate to mix my cancer problems with my wine observations. I think it would be a general downer for the lifestyle crowd out there.

Furthermore, we in the wine trade always claim there are tremendous health benefits to drinking wine. I've already had cardiovascular bypass surgery over eight years ago and now I got a tumor aggressively rattling in my brain. My colleagues in the glamorous wine industry want me to keep it quiet.

So, I've started this wonderful new blog to discuss wine, brain tumors, my life and to give you hot tips on handling the cancer stricken around you. There will also be practical wine/radiation pairings when I start radiation therapy and chemotherapy next week.

Having brain cancer means I might both physically and intellectually decline. So, I will be using this blog as a venue to pursue petty vendettas against relatives, acquaintances and people in the wine trade.

I might also lose touch with reality and say things that are not true or are only half true. The important thing is to have fun and enjoy this rare and precious time in my life.

One of my pet vendettas is my cousin Dr. Barbara Hirsch. Dr. Barbara Hirsch is a very important Great Neck Endocrinologist, who was raised and nurtured by my parents. Dr. Hirsch waited until my father was near death and my mother was suffering from a rare neuromuscular disorder, to write them a seven page letter denouncing them for being horrible to her for the entirety of her life! Despite my concerns, Dr. Hirsch still refuses to apologize.

Last night, I drank a beautiful bottle of Bourgueil Clos Sénéchal 2005 from Pierre Breton. It was sublime and reminded me that I used to be healthy. Not only that, the vineyard used to be there before I existed. It exists independently of my having cancer and will continue to exist. You ought to buy some.

August 2009 Postscript: Not only does it exist independently of my cancer, it also exists independently of Louis/Dressner Selections. After 18 years, they have dumped us for Kermit Lynch. Oh well. At least I'm alive!