Mosites Family Gift Benefits Cancer Survivors

Marian Mosites (right) sits with her daughter, Cindy Sunseri, inside the Mosites home.

It is nearly impossible to talk to Steve and Marian Mosites about their generous donation to the Eye and Ear Foundation—a gift that will allow UPMC’s Department of Otolaryngology to conduct ground-breaking research and offer personalized care for head and neck cancer.

Well, actually, it is only tough to talk to Steve, because Marian, who has known her husband since he was a member of the Mt. Lebanon High School Class of 1947 (she was several years behind), answers nearly every question for him in a pleasant, well-modulated voice.

One senses, though, that Steve, who founded Mosites Construction and Development in 1959 and is a giant in his industry, doesn’t mind saving his voice for the office; in fact, he leaves for work just a few minutes after the interview starts over coffee and croissants in their sunny Pinoak Road kitchen. He’s just pleased that his wife of more than 50 years—a head and neck cancer survivor for two decades—has a voice.

In 1997, Marian learned she had cancer of the tonsils and neck, a diagnosis she calls “shocking.” The chemotherapy and radiation that followed saved her life but also posed challenges, for that treatment protocol can cause painful damage to sensitive areas and slow the healing process. Most survivors of head and neck cancer, which affects 50,000 people a year, need extensive follow-up therapy to mitigate what can be lifelong limitations.

Beautiful, gracious and showing few noticeable signs of her trauma, Marian attributes her good recovery to her otolaryngologist, Dr. Eugene Myers, whom she calls her “knight in shining armor.” That devotion to her doctor has helped change the way UPMC treats the type cancer she battled.

“Doctor Myers called and said, ‘Marian, I was there when you needed me; now I need you to be there for me,” Marian recalls. Always philanthropic, it didn’t take long for the Mosites to agree to make a half million dollar donation to the Eye and Ear Foundation to establish the Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Head and Neck Cancer Research.

Cindy Mosites Sunseri, one of the couple’s five children and a prominent Howard Hanna Real Estate agent, joined her parents for the interview. Like Steve and Marian, Cindy said “yes” immediately when she was asked to serve on the board of the Eye and Ear Foundation five years ago. As she explains it, head and neck cancer requires personalized treatment because each case is different, depending on the patient’s cells and genetic makeup. A one-size-fits-all protocol can cause people to receive more treatment than is merited and to suffer harsher
after effects.

Cindy Sunseri’s team of docs and other medical professionals celebrated at Market Square after the marathon.

As part of the Marian Mosites Initiative, directed by UPMC otolaryngologist Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Hillman Cancer Center, researchers are studying why a person’s immune system does not reject a particular tumor. They aim to enhance screening, individualize treatment and lessen the need for surgical removal, radiation and chemotherapy. Today robotic surgery might be part of the treatment protocol.

The Mosites’ donation also helped create a survivor clinic headed by UPMC otolaryngologist Jonas T. Johnson, professor and the Dr. Eugene N. Myers Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The clinic brings dentists, audiologists, physical therapists and other medical professionals together in one place to help people cope with debilitating after effects of head and neck cancer, such as changes in saliva, excess mucous, loss of taste, loss of teeth, stiffness of the neck and shoulders and problems with swallowing. Some people may lose their hearing. Many experience anxiety and depression.

Even after years of being cancer free, a survivor who has problems with chewing, for example, may be still trying to eat her meal long after everyone else at the table has finished, Cindy notes.

This year, to focus on survival, Cindy sponsored a Pittsburgh Marathon team of 22 runners composed of UPMC doctors, residents and staff and led by Hillman Cancer Center’s Dr. Ferris. Her $5,000 donation provided for registration, shirts and an ebullient celebration at City Works at Market Square at the end of the race.

That celebration parallels the joy Marian Mosites’ family has felt for two decades, since the wife, mother and grandmother of 10 won her marathon against head and neck cancer.

If Marian (and Cindy, who is a good talker, too) would let their benevolent husband and father get a word in (doubtful), there is no doubt Steve Mosites would say: “Let’s win the race against head and neck cancer!”