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Larger than life

Dec 14, 2021

ScucciFest main image

ScucciFest music festival turns loss - and a love of music - into hope in the fight against lung cancer

It’s been nearly a decade and a half since the world lost Michael Robert (“Scucci”) Pascucci. But, his exuberant spirit and love for life and music live on every year through ScucciFest, an annual family-friendly event overlooking the James River.

Fourteen years ago, Scucci was a newlywed, having just married the love of his life, Amy Pascucci Hanrahan, formerly Amy Rivera. 

One week after getting married, Pascucci was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer and their life changed forever. Pascucci passed away on May 10, 2007, at the age of 40, after a hard-fought, eight-and-a-half-month battle with Hanrahan by his side every step of the way.

Michael Pascucci wedding

In 2008, less than a year after his death, Hanrahan founded ScucciFest as “a way for all of us who loved Mike to keep his spirit and memory alive, and to make his loss have meaning.” 

For 13 of these past 14 years (the only year missed was in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Scucci’s friends and family have come together to remember their dear friend and to raise money for cancer research in his memory. Organized through the Michael Pascucci Cancer Association (MPCA), ScucciFest has raised and donated nearly $250,000 for cancer research during its history, including $50,000 this year for VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Larger than Life

Scucci was a salesman who never met a stranger. His jobs at Mid-Atlantic Fasteners and Sysco, selling things like radiators, Lance crackers and cake frosting, made him an expert in all sorts of things, including people. But this was just one of Scucci’s many talents.

The Raleigh, N.C., native was a natural athlete. He excelled on the football field and was ranked as  the number two high school defensive lineman in the state. He was recruited, with a full ride to play football at schools across the mid-Atlantic region, including the University of Virginia (UVA), Virginia Tech, Duke and Clemson.  He chose UVA and thus began to build his life here in Virginia.

“Mike chose UVA because he was smart,” said Hanrahan, a Virginia native from Midlothian. “He knew he wanted to graduate from a school where he would have an amazing football experience and an amazing education.” That was the start of Scucci becoming a Virginian through and through, like Hanrahan.

Michael Pascucci Football

On and off the football field, Scucci was larger than life. He was one of those guys others describe as a giant teddy bear - with a large stature and an even larger heart, always making jokes and new friends to expand his already wide network. Scucci’s laugh could be heard for miles. Pictures of Scucci that his friends continue to share on social media to this day, convey his big personality and the even bigger impact he had on those who knew him. 

When establishing the URL for the MPCA to honor her husband,  Hanrahan fittingly chose www.LargerThanLifeforMike.org/.

“We founded the Michael Pascucci Cancer Association in Mike’s honor to help his memory continue to be larger than life,” Hanrahan said. “Each year, as we watch the contributions we are able to make to cancer research in Mike’s name grow, we know that his legacy lives on.”

Turning heartbreak into hope through music and fellowship

Hanrahan and Scucci’s love was also larger than life. The couple met on a blind date while both living in Richmond. They shared a love for adventure, music, food, spending time with friends and for their dogs Bennett and Baily, both rescue dogs.

 “The idea for ScucciFest was to bring friends and families together for a day of music, food and fun. It is the kind of event Mike would have loved,” Hanrahan said.”

Mike Pascucci riding a bike on the beach

The 13th annual ScucciFest took place in September at the American Legion Post 354 in the Tarrington neighborhood on Richmond’s south side. Four top local bands, Frayed Knot, Something Strange, Barstool Rodeo and Agents of Good Roots, provided live music while guests enjoyed food, beverages and games for all ages. Sponsorships, fittingly, start at a Larger-than-Life Sponsor with other levels including Life-Sized, Giant and Large. Families and small businesses generally step up to support the event, contributing to a record-breaking $35,000 raised this year alone.

Last year, even without an in-person event because of the pandemic, ScucciFest raised money. “People donated to honor Mike even without an event. It was amazing,” said Hanrahan.

That meant that Hanrahan and the Michael R. Pascucci Cancer Association were able to present Massey with a check for $50,000 at the 2021 event. Massey’s Charmica Epps Harris and Meghan Zapiec were there to receive the donation and to join in the celebration.

“What a spectacular event and what an honor it was to be there,” said Zapiec. “Scucci’s spirit was there in full force, and it was wonderful being a part of everyone celebrating, not only his memory, but also the impact his life and legacy is continuing to have on the fight against cancer.”

ScucciFest 2021

Investing in cancer research and innovation at Massey

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but the Hanrahan’s are in it for the long haul - and they recognize Massey’s impact in the fight. This year alone, Massey achieved some exciting milestones in lung cancer research.

“We choose to support Massey because of the incredible things that Massey is continuing to do in cancer research, including in CAR-T technologies,” said Hanrahan, a VCU graduate who regularly travels the hour from home to cheer on her favorite VCU Rams.

Following Scucci’s death, MPCA supported lung cancer research exclusively, but has since expanded its support in recent years to other cancers, said Hanrahan. She notes that cancer has impacted other friends and family members, including two uncles and her ‘Nana’ who died of prostate cancer and lymphoma.  Bennett and Baily, the couple’s beloved dogs, also died of cancer; Baily four months before Mike and Bennett five years later.

In 2018 and 2019, MPCA gave $25,000 to Massey (and another $25,000 to UVA) to support CAR-T research. “CAR-T hits so many different cancers; it hits lung cancer, pediatric cancer and others. It is exciting to put our money behind a therapy that will cast such a wide net,” said Hanrahan.

Massey has been a leader in CAR T-cell research therapy, which has proven effective at treating advanced blood cancers in both children and adults for years. In 2018, Massey became the first in Virginia to offer FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy. Earlier this year, scientists at Massey announced a breakthrough in identifying a protein that could serve as a therapeutic target in lung cancer.

Just this September, theNational Cancer Institute announced that Massey, in collaboration with MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and City of Hope, received a prestigious Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) award — the first ever awarded in the state of Virginia — to address racial inequities in lung cancer. The approximately $3 million, three-year grant will fund studies on how stress contributes to higher rates of lung cancer in predominantly Black communities.

“Massey’s selection for a SPORE grant only reinforces what we already know about the work and research being done there: that Massey is continuing to push the envelope and advance research in our fight against lung, and all cancers,” said Hanrahan.

The stigma of lung cancer

Hanrahan hopes that these and other advances will also help reduce the stigma associated with lung cancer that she and Scucci faced.

Scucci was a non-smoker diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer at age 40. Especially after his death, Hanrahan was struck by the stigma that was associated with lung cancer, and by how little was being done at the time to combat lung cancer or even to understand it as more than a smoker’s disease. “People acted very differently once they found out Mike was a non-smoker. They became much more sympathetic. It was a noticeable difference.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10% to 20% of lung cancers (20,000 to 40,000) each year occur in people who never smoked or smoked very infrequently. Secondhand smoke and radon contribute to these cancers. Fifty to 60 percent of lung cancers among non-smokers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in the cells that line the lung’s tiny air sacs and make substances such as mucus).

Amy Black and Gold image

Keeping it in the family

Today, fourteen years after losing Scucci, Hanrahan lives in Charlottesville with her husband of eight years, Patrick, and three stepchildren, who keep her busy with soccer and sports. The couple has two new rescue dogs, Brady and Lexi, and Hanrahan enjoys time volunteering with the University of Virginia (UVA) cancer peer partner support program.

“Rescue dogs have always been a passion of mine,” Hanrahan said, “and one which I’ve been able to share with Mike and Patrick.”

Her two husbands were friends, Hanrahan said. Scucci was best man at Patrick’s first wedding. 

“For years after Mike passed away, Patrick would always come to ScucciFest to celebrate and remember Mike with us,” said Hanrahan. The two became friends and seven years later, tied the knot.

Scucci wedding

“It is wonderful now to be married to someone who also knew and loved Mike, to be able to talk about Mike and to remember him together. We both love and miss him.”

Hanrahan and Patrick visit the Richmond area often, not only to host ScucciFest each year, but to cheer on the VCU Rams and to reconnect with friends and family in the community where she grew up.

A lasting legacy

The legacy of ScucciFest? Hanrahan said it is to spread Michael’s exuberant spirit and add light to everyone’s lives through music and hope, until we get to a day when cancer - including non-smokers lung cancer - will no longer rob the world of a life as large as Scucci.

Fighting and curing cancer is a big task. Larger than life, even. But with supporters like Hanrahan and Patrick, and the MSCA Board including Kevin Elliott, Cortney Smith, Dan Mason, Pam Mason, Katie Mason, James Sprinkle and Michelle Belic (in addition to Hanrahan and Patrick), and the innovations happening every day at Massey, together, we can make a future without cancer possible. 

That is something we can be exuberant about.

ScucciFest 2008 Rainbow

Information about ScucciFest, which takes place annually each fall,  and about the Michael R. Pascucci Cancer Association (MPCA) is at https://www.largerthanlifeformike.org/mission.html.

Learn more about lung cancer research and treatment at Massey.

Written by: Katherine A. Layton

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