First-year Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano returned to Indianapolis Thursday night for his annual cancer research fundraiser, but he didn’t leave Halas Hall alone.
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy and a handful of assistant coaches joined Pagano at the seventh annual Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala at the Indianapolis Colts’ practice facility.
The fundraiser started in 2013, one year after Pagano—then the Colts head coach—was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. It’s estimated that Thursday night’s event raised $1.8 million, raising the gala’s seven-year total to $7.3 million. Colts owner Jim Irsay not only hosted the event but donated $1 million to the cause.
“It was an amazing night,” Pagano told ChicagoBears.com. “We raised a ton of money for cancer research. It was pretty much something that you’re probably never going to see again where you’ve got two teams coming together, putting football aside for a night and doing something that’s way bigger than football.”
Pagano was especially grateful to the Bears contingent that traveled to Indianapolis for the event, which was attended by about 450 people.
“It just speaks to the character and the class of the McCaskey family, Ryan Pace and coach Nagy,” Pagano said. “For them to make this trek down, it’s not an easy ride. We’re right in the middle of the offseason program, so it would have been real easy to not do it. For them to take the time to buy a table and donate to such a great cause—not only from a financial standpoint but the group that came down—it’s very humbling I’m just blown away by it. It just speaks to the family and what they stand for.”
Pagano was in his first season as Colts head coach in 2012 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He took a leave of absence after the first four games to undergo treatment and returned for the regular-season finale three months later with his cancer in remission.
Pagano’s battle with the disease led to the creation of the Chuckstrong movement to both support him and raise money for cancer research at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, where the veteran coach was treated. Since its inception, the Tailgate Gala has raised enough money for the Cancer Center to hire 12 doctors who specialize in researching leukemia, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and cancer genetics.
According to Pagano, the type of leukemia he had had a 50 percent survival rate 20 years ago. But because of the funds that were raised to research it, the chances of beating the disease are now much better.
“When I was diagnosed, the cure rate was in the low 90s, so I was very lucky,” Pagano said. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing and trying to raise money so that it doesn’t matter what type of cancer you get, the odds continue to go up in your favor.”
Pagano’s fight with cancer changed his life.
“It just puts things in perspective,” he said. “I’ve always had pretty good perspective, never really taken any days for granted. But we’re not promised tomorrow. You come through something like this and you get through and see the other side of it, it just gives you a greater appreciation for your health. We don’t bitch and complain about the small stuff. I’m very, very grateful. I’ve got a ton of gratitude.”