Stoffa family’s eyes are on a cure

By on September 2, 2011

“Eyes on a Cure” In memory of Shirley Stoffa

Benefit to raise funds for Ocular Melanoma research
Saturday, Sept. 17
Elburn Lions Club Park
3 p.m. Doors open;
4 to 7 p.m. Dinner
Cash bar, raffle and silent auction
Live music by FISHIPPIES
Seeking donations or items for a silent auction and raffle
Donations and checks made payable to “Eyes on a Cure” can be mailed to American Bank & Trust, c/o Eyes on a Cure,
P.O. Box 250, Elburn, IL, 60119.

For more information, contact Sarah Stoffa at (630) 417-3723 or
sarahstoffa@yahoo.com;
Molly Stoffa at (630) 417-2599 or mollystoffa@yahoo.com

by Susan O’Neill
Elburn—When Shirley Stoffa was first diagnosed with ocular melanoma in May 2008, no one in her family knew anything about the disease. She was treated with a radioactive material, and for two years, she seemed fine.

Then, on Jan. 27 of this year, the doctors found that the cancer had come back and had metastasized to her liver. Her local oncologist admitted that he had never treated anyone with her disease before. By the time the family found a specialist in Philadelphia who had access to a specialized drug in short national supply, Shirley was too sick to travel.

Although she began receiving chemotherapy, the cancer grew faster, and Shirley passed away a day before she was to receive her second treatment—just a little over six weeks from the second diagnosis.

“It went a lot quicker than any of us thought,” her daughter Sarah Stoffa said.

The idea for a fundraiser took form as Sarah, her brother Todd Stoffa and his wife Molly talked about how little is known about Shirley’s disease.

The doctors told us that the disease has such a poor prognosis because it’s so rare and there is such limited research about it, Todd said.

The family has organized a fundraiser, called Eyes on a Cure, both to raise money for research and to raise awareness of the disease.

“It feels good to do something positive out of this,” Sarah said. “We want to continue on her legacy of giving and love.”

According to her family, these are some pretty big shoes to fill.

“She was always giving to others and was always there for everyone else,” Molly said.

Shirley’s sewing skills are legendary, and she was always making or altering something for someone. She was a ready babysitter, and especially loved taking care of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Although her family was always first, Shirley was also an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District, worked countless hours for the Elburn Lions Club, and was very involved with St. Gall’s Church in Elburn, leading Bible groups and other activities.

She began working for the Kaneland School District in the early 1980s in the library, and had just started a new job in the district office as a benefits coordinator at the beginning of this year when she became ill again.

While she was in the hospital this year, she worried more about her family and others than she did about herself, Sarah said. She connected with so many of the nursing, housekeeping and dietary staff there, and in the six short weeks that she was there, she endeared herself to them.

“There were tears in their eyes as she left the hospital for the last time,” Molly said.

Denise Johnson, a nurse in the radiology department, and her husband, Eric, play in a band, and they will be playing for the fundraising benefit. Eric, also a producer with WGN news, convinced his station to air a nationwide segment on ocular melanoma and the event.

“She never gave up,” Sarah said. “She never questioned, ‘why me?’”

Shirley’s husband Mike Stoffa said that he is excited about the fundraiser, and that it is in keeping with his wife’s spirit.

“When someone needed a hand, Shirley jumped right in,” Mike said.

He said he hopes that the money they raise will give other people a better chance of life, and that one little piece of research might help to make a difference in the lives of other families.

Many businesses have already stepped up to donate silent auction items, including a full-day spa package, restaurant gift cards, car washes, personal training sessions, original artwork, and a photography session. An individual from the family’s e-mail support group donated two weeks at a condominium in Siesta Key, and someone else made a quilt from Shirley’s Kaneland T-shirts and other Kaneland clothes.

“You get to see the true outpouring of support and love to our mother,” Todd said.

The family has already raised $4,000, and wants to surpass the $10,000 maximum that another group has raised for the Ocular Melanoma Foundation.

“It will be a good evening of fellowship,” Mike said.