Charlotte Bal Masque will support rare-cancer research

Friends Amy Strasser and Pattie Iannitti were together at breakfast last April when Iannitti suddenly doubled over from pain in her side.

Strasser, 36, followed Iannitti, 47, to the emergency room, where tests revealed a large mass. Iannitti underwent surgery the next day and eventually was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive stage IV cancer: appendicial mucinous adenocarcinoma.

“With a diagnosis of stage III or IV, the standard of treatment is to remove lymph nodes and part of the right colon,” Iannitti said.

Iannitti said the surgeons excised 40 lymph nodes and part of her colon and performed a total hysterectomy.

“I didn’t want to take a chance … (I) didn’t want it to be a problem in the future,” she said.

Iannitti was in the hospital for two weeks, then started chemotherapy.

“The closest thing they can offer (someone with that type of cancer) is to treat the same way as they would someone who has stage IV colon cancer,” said Iannitti. “Same surgery, same chemo regimen – we don’t know if it works.”

Her chemotherapy lasted six months; she finished treatment in November.

The Stonecroft mother of three children said she physically is almost back to where she was before the diagnosis.

“Some days are a little tough, a little traumatic,” Iannitti said. “I’m not considered cured until after five years, (but there is) no evidence of disease right now.”

Strasser has been there for Iannitti from the beginning, organizing meals and starting Iannitti’s www.caringbridge.org website. “I was slightly traumatized from the situation, and I just wanted to fix it,” she said.

Strasser, a Providence Springs resident, had an idea to honor her friend while raising money for research. Because Iannitti and her surgeon husband, David, 48, are social people, Strasser thought a formal ball would be appropriate.

Strasser enlisted eight others who were “talented in areas that I wasn’t.”

“No one turned me down,” she said.

Susan Cameron, Pam Cohen, Sheri Gersin, Rebekah Law, Trent Merchant, Allison Nelson, Susan Rucho, Deborah Russo and Amy Strasser formed the P Strong Board. Iannitti’s husband designed the P Strong logo, inspired by the strength of the Boston Strong logo born of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

The P Strong Board created the inaugural Bal Masque, an evening to benefit the P Strong Fund of the Carolinas Healthcare Foundation. The P Strong Fund will support research and treatment of uncommon and unusual cancers; the board already has raised more than $60,000.

The Bal Masque will be 7 p.m. March 28 at the Charlotte Marriott City Center. Dinner, drinks, dancing, and paddle and silent auctions are planned.

“It will be a fun, colorful evening to bring this most important cancer to the forefront,” said Beth Mattos of Creative Events Charlotte.

“The P Strong Fund allows us to support and celebrate our friend while also raising awareness of rare and unusual cancers,” said Pam Cohen, whose husband, Jeff, is a 16-year cancer survivor.

“When I received a devastating cancer diagnosis, I was surrounded with love, care and kindness from so many people near and far,” Iannitti said. “But for a group of my friends to rally and want to do more, not only for me but for people with rare and complex cancers, that makes them extraordinary individuals.

“I will forever be thankful to them, and I am so proud to know each one of them.”