A flashy local fundraiser has been taking swings at cancer for half a decade but organizers hope to deliver the biggest blow yet at this year's event with the promise of matching money for whatever they raise.
Fight for Life is an amalgamation of mixed martial arts fights and a concert set to a backdrop of drinks and dancing and ice. Lots of ice. An ice lounge, ice luges and a 10-foot-tall ice wall.
Leslie Knox, president of Advanced Industrial Services, dreamed of an event where organizers would film the stories of people who fought cancer and play them on screens before actual mixed martial arts fights.
Last year about 2,000 people attended the shindig and the gala has raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million for the American Cancer Society since it began, Robert Rice, AIS project manager and spokesman, estimated.
But this year's fight money is going to a new cause, a cancer fund that will benefit Kern County cancer patients, and the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center has promised to match the proceeds up to $1 million.
Cory Bernard, a 24-year-old in remission from a bone cancer, said the assistance he received from CBCC got him through his illness and he hopes the fund will help others in a similar fashion.
Speaking Thursday at a news conference held in the cavernous warehouse where this year's Fight for Life will be held, Bernard said he was let go from his job five months into his cancer treatment. He lost his health insurance and at that time, Bernard said he thought he might as well just die. CBCC helped Bernard make his COBRA payments and cover his treatment, Bernard said.
"I'm glad that there's a fund like this out there. I hope more people could use it than just the few that CBCC was able to help," Bernard said. "I just hope nobody else would have to go through this."
Dr. Ravi Patel, CBCC's managing partner and medical director, said the fund won't cover the costs of cancer medications, which are extremely expensive, but will help people make their insurance payments.
It could be an asset to middle-class patients who have run out of options or terminally-ill people who want to quit working but can't for fear of losing their insurance coverage, Patel said.
Robin Mangarin-Scott, who is on the board of the new fund, said Wednesday that the money will help the fund get started.
"It's a blessing that we are able to not have to go out right away and try to raise money," she said.
Fight for Life will feature its first sanctioned fight this year and country music group Little Big Town will perform. Knox said the use of a 100,000-plus square-foot-space on Buck Owens Boulevard was donated for the event.
Many of the materials, services and man hours that it takes to put together the event are donated or discounted, she said.