About the author:
Jeffrey Schecter, known in the theater community as Shecky (a nickname bestowed by choreographer Sergio Trujillo), has shown off his musical talent on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, Wonderful Town, The Pajama Game and, most notably, A Chorus Line. (If you missed the show, catch him in the documentary Every Little Step.) Schecter jokingly recalls that his love of dance was inspired by John Travolta’s swaggering performance in Saturday Night Fever: “I had the white suit, and the moves to go with it. I was very popular in old age homes, dance contests and even in bars and restaurants on Long Island.” Now a standby in the off-Broadway production of Tin Pan Alley Rag, Schecter is spending his summer on a true labor of love: he’s preparing to run in a half marathon and hoping to raise money for melanoma research in honor of a special person who passed away from the deadly skin cancer. Here, Schecter shares his story.
You might know me from the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, in which I had the pleasure of performing “I Can Do That” as Mike Costa. These days, I am standing by for the lead role of Irving Berlin in Roundabout Theatre’s production of Tin Pan Alley Rag. But in my spare time, I’m doing something new: training to run a half marathon on August 16 in honor of my late sister-in-law, Rebecca Swender, and raising money for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (Melanoma Division).
I met Rebecca, or Becca, as she was fondly called, many years ago at a family gathering and liked her immediately. She had a warm smile and an infectious laugh to go with her great sense of humor. She also seemed to be the trendiest and most stylish of the Swender sisters! (I married her youngest sister, Melissa.) Becca was genuinely curious about my work, always interested in what I was doing with my career as well as the life I shared with Melissa. She was a well-respected teacher and student at the University of Wisconsin, where she received both her Masters and Ph.D. Becca died on June 14, 2008, from melanoma, and although I feel cheated and saddened by her death, I’m inspired and moved by her life and her contribution to the people she touched.
Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. Unlike many other common cancers, melanoma has a wide age distribution. It occurs in younger as well as older people (Becca was 36 when she died). Almost 9,000 people in the United States are expected to die of melanoma in 2009. The biggest misconception about the disease is that all melanomas are a direct result of too much sun exposure; heredity can also play a part, and early detection is key.
When A Chorus Line closed last year, I wanted to stay in shape without going to the gym, so out of curiosity I started to run. I had never been a runner, and never even liked running! I was always the kid who huffed and puffed after running a mile for physical education in high school. But I immediately found running to be a great distraction from the “biz,” and the millions of ideas in my head. Then it hit me: “I want to run a marathon, and I want it to be in honor of Becca and all the other relatives and friends I lost to cancer.”
I chose melanoma as my focus because it is under-funded, and it was Becca’s wish to raise money and support research into this disease. When I decided to sign up for a half marathon, I was encouraged by the NYC Road Runners to join a charity team. “Fred’s Team” allowed me to choose a cancer that I wanted to support. A total of 80% of the donations I receive will go to Sloan-Kettering’s melanoma division. It is my goal to raise at least $3,500. I’ve continued my training all summer, and by race day, I will be ready for this very difficult challenge.
For years, I have supported the Broadway community with performances for the Actors Fund and fundraising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. With the loss of Becca, I am inspired to begin the process of educating the theater community, especially young people, about this most deadly of cancers. Eventually, I would love to help create a division within Equity to raise money specifically for melanoma and other serious cancers.
So, on August 16, whether it’s 60 or 80 degrees at 7AM, I’ll be at the starting line ready to run in honor of my dear sister-in-law and others who have lost a battle with cancer. If you would like to support me, please click here to make a donation.