T.J. Martell was in his late teens when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Before he passed away in 1974 at the age of 21, T.J. told his oncologist, James Holland, M.D., FASCO, that he wanted to help others affected by the disease.
Holland explained that scientific research would be the catalyst to finding better treatments and saving lives, and that it would take millions of dollars. Instead of being intimidated by that amount, T.J. asked his father, music industry executive Tony Martell, to promise to raise $1 million dollars for research. Even though Tony Martell had no fundraising experience, he agreed.
The T.J. Martell Foundation was launched shortly after T.J. passed. Nearly 43 years later, it has become one of the world’s leading sponsors of innovative early-stage research into the treatments and cures for cancer.
“Since its inception in 1975, the foundation has raised more than $280 million for cancer research at leading research facilities and flagship hospitals across the United States, including the T.J. Martell Memorial Laboratories at Mount Sinai where Dr. Holland conducted his research until he passed away earlier this year,” Kate Fitzpatrick, Director of Communications and Patient Services for the T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer Research, said in an interview with CURE.
Fueled by the tragic loss of their son, Tony and his wife Vicky Martell built the foundation by working closely with their passionate friends in the music industry to continue his legacy and expand the foundation’s fundraising initiatives every year. Thanks to these like-minded friends, the organization grew across the country to markets like New Jersey, Nashville, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Atlanta.
While it was born from connections in the music industry, the foundation has found ongoing success beyond that community in the past four decades. “Over the years, we have kept the foundation’s roots deep in the music industry while expanding to many other industries,” said Fitzpatrick. “Today, the T.J. Martell Foundation is a vibrant organization with creative, passionate volunteers and donors who are committed to funding research that will one day lead to a cure for cancer.”
When it comes to research, the foundation has seen success in a broad spectrum of issues from ovarian, prostate, leukemia and bladder cancer to psycho-oncology and more. For example, the foundation has helped fund research in the field of neuroblastoma – a deadly form of cancer in young children – at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It has also supported analyses of triple negative breast cancer, research into how heterogeneity is associated with the risk of lung cancer, and the development of counseling interventions to reduce distress among caregivers. In each case, the group looks at ways to utilize the collected data for clinical trials and potential therapies.
Additionally, the foundation encourages its funded scientists to leverage the funds they receive with other larger funding sources, such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). “This has been done successfully by many of our researchers and we can conservatively estimate that our funding has resulted in approximately $1 billion in additional research funding,” said Fitzpatrick.
Events play an integral role in the foundation’s efforts, as well; this year will see more than 40 events from coast to coast. In addition to signature events like their New York Honors Gala, LA Family Day and Spirit of Excellence, and their Best Cellars Wine Dinners in Atlanta, Houston, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., the foundation also hosts summer events like The Legends Cast for a Cure Big Bass Tournament in Tennessee, the Rock N’ Bowl Tournament and the New York Golf Classic.
The Foundation’s efforts have been bolstered by the support of many celebrities and noteworthy individuals, including former President George W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush and former President Bill Clinton, as well as some of the biggest icons in the music industry like Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, George Strait and Reba McEntire.
“We are always awed by the renown and selflessness of those who come together to make a difference and are grateful to have such incredibly generous supporters in our pursuit of fulfilling Music’s Promise for a cure,” said Fitzpatrick.
In the coming years, the foundation’s leadership has its eye on growth in new markets. According to Fitzpatrick, “Joel A. Katz, Chairman of the National Board of Trustees, is one of many global music industry leaders that serve on the board and is focused on building our national brand as well as our fundraising efforts with non-event revenue and expanding into new territories.”
Recognition also plays an important role, with the upcoming launch of the Good Deeds campaign, which will highlight very special supporters who are making the world a better place.
Ultimately, Fitzpatrick said the goal is working together to help others, just like T.J. wanted. “Care and compassion drive everything we do, from helping someone connect with a doctor for the most current treatment options, to developing initiatives that educate our members and help promote healthy lifestyles and wellness that lead to cancer awareness and prevention,” said Fitzpatrick.
“The goal is to continue Tony Martell’s vision and strive to fund the most promising science that money can buy,” she added.
You can follow the T.J. Martell Foundation on social media and learn more at TJMartell.org