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Taste of hope

by: Duy Nguyen

The #FunCrew Recap

Young Professionals for the American Cancer Society (YPACS) put on a great event and with this being their first year hosting I’m sure the future can only get crazier, I mean… brighter.
Before I got to the door on the semi rainy evening, some flashing lights caught my eye and I wasn’t sure how to react as I looked through the doorway to be greeted by stilt walkers and light-up hula hoops (I found out from one of the performers that once you start hoarding the plastic tubes you can swing around your waist, you can’t stop). Oh not to mention the people walking around on giant yoga balls (no idea what to call them, ball-walkers perhaps?). They casually tip-toed across the VIP room and swung color changing lights around their bodies. Shout out to Weightless Aerial Arts for the fun entertainment, you guys may almost be as fun as the #FunCrew.
So after I introduced myself as… myself to the event coordinator I realized I was in the right place and the circus-like humans were a part of the plan and not just a figment of my imagination. There was a silent auction with all sorts of items up for bid to benefit the fight against cancer. The VIP room was reserved for a special group of individuals like the honorees and some other “select level sponsors and their guests”. Everyone mingled in this area, waiting for the doors to open and the full on smell of food from familiar vendors at the tasting stations and of course for the lights on the Memphis Grand Carousel, which has its own address, to fill up the room. 

I do have to be clear this wasn’t just a holding room where the VIPs just stared at each other. The entire time the performers were strutting there stuff and rotating acts to keep the crowd entertained. The whole team seemed to be crossed trained in out another’s fields as the same individual was doing doing the same act all night and that was refreshing. Kudo’s to the time they put into their crafts and double kudos for not falling and breaking anything when my camera flash blinded them. I don’t know about you but where do you even start looking for “stilt walker insurance?” and can you save 15% or more on it? The open bar also did it’s part by being open with friendly faces and even friendlier libations were handed out to the attendees. 

The Honorees 

Once the doors opened it was time to grab some food and grab a seat or just stand there with a camera hovering around the tasting stations waiting for photo ops. The crowd seemed very delighted by the selection of food stuffs, I know I was, and I enjoyed getting to know some of the representatives handing out their dishes. While everyone was seated Dustin started the program speaking on his participation in the fight against cancer and mentioned this being a cancer event he got to attend that did not require him to wear a bra. Then the honorees were introduced.



First was Luke Berry, currently the Managing Director for Collier Insurance. His introduction, began with videos submitted by family and friends (his dogs even joined the fun) supporting and congratulating his achievement. His father had lost his battle with cancer after six long years of fighting. Luke decided to join the YPACS to turn his father’s tragedy into fuel by utilizing his time and energy to bring awareness to cancer. He had to make a choice from the pain from losing someone close and his choice was to make sure anyone else that felt that knew they were not alone.


The next honoree with a story for us was Eric McMahon. Everyone knows him as Grizz from the Memphis Grizzlies. He was in a different suit tonight and unless he’s got a window unit running inside the mascot costume, it was probably easier to breathe. His bought with cancer was a hard fought match. Complications after complications followed by a 30% chance to live could not be seen in his smile today.

Eric shared a story about the day he was was first getting word about what he would soon learn to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His friend called and Eric expecting comforting words was caught completely off guard. The words that came through the phone were “I AM EXCITED FOR YOU!”. I know what you are thinking and it’s probably what I thought to myself as I lifted my hat so that I could scratch my head like everyone in the audience.

Eric’s friend was the best cheerleader anyone could ask for. He was excited that Eric would be one of the few that would fight and beat cancer in the ring. His perspective of there was not a doubt in his mind that this challenge was just that, a challenge. With that Eric said that day in the doctor’s office, “What can I do today to win this fight”. Well I’m leaving out a ton of details but I’m sure this accomplished father to be was standing before us with a medal, trophy, or award that few can say they have held. And even in that he recognized that people who feel the emotional pain of losing a loved one were the who and the why he stands for awareness today.


Last but certainly not least was Erica Plybeah Hemphill. Currently, a Clinical Informatics Project Manager with Memphis Bioworks Foundation & St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She is no stranger to oncology both personally and professionally. Her introduction started with a plethora of supporters who thanked her for supporting and pushing them in all aspects of life. Her proud husband and son were in the mix to extend their joy and excitement for mom.

While on the job Erica saw oncology patients who needed more help than they were getting. Several family members suffered from breast and ovarian cancer, so Erica decided to do more. Alongside being a 2018 Top 40 Under 40 Urban Elite Professional and boasting other accolades, she founded MedHaul. A new company that focuses on getting transportation for patients that cannot afford to get to treatment. The initiative is allowing transportation providers to “donate” much needed rides to patients who need them. Erica stresses educating women on preventative measures (e.g. mammograms, wellness visits) along with knowing ones family history.

The night went on

The carousel kept spinning and the donations flowed in through the silent auction and every time a paddle was raised. People were going back to tasting stations for 3rds, or 8ths in my case, darts and rings were thrown with hopes of winning prizes.

What was really amazing about all of this was that one, both Nugget and DJ Epic said they recognized me (when I had no idea what they looked like IRL) and two, the people who came out to just support those close to them. At the end of the day it’s spreading awareness and connecting with others who may just need a hug or a high five from Nugget to lift their spirits.

#FunCrew Duy signing off!

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