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To learn everything that will transpire at the ball, you will have to use your imagination. That’s fitting, as the American Cancer Society’s upcoming gala is the Imagination Ball, inviting attendees to envision a world without cancer.

Or even better, don’t rely on your imagination – purchase tickets for the event, if tickets are still available, to be held the evening of Friday, Feb. 1 at the JW Marriott hotel. This will be the first year the ball will be held in the finally-completed Lanai Tower at the hotel, after several years in a tent – a glitzy, chandelier and parquet-floored tent, but still a tent – while the hotel underwent significant modernization. For many, this will be their first chance to see the new changes and the new ballroom.

This year featuring a “take me to the Casbah” Moroccan theme, the gala is billed as “A Magical Night to Finish the Fight,” although when it comes to finishing the fight against cancer, we are probably closer to the end of the beginning than the beginning of the end. The reason you have to use your imagination is that ball chairperson Debra Shanahan, beyond vague references to Aladdin and genies, is playing her cards close to the vest and not telling everything that is in store for guests. She did say not to expect an operational magic carpet, and probably no hookahs.

Last year’s surprise featured a speed painter, who turned out two canvases in about five minutes, raising a quick $10,000 for the fight against cancer.

One feature Shanahan did divulge is a short film that will be screened following the personal story of Lauren Ross of Marco Island, whose family owns Mango’s Dockside Bistro, who will share her message of hope. She is dealing with stage two breast cancer, after being diagnosed last August.

Ross was upbeat when she spoke with a reporter, cheerful as she finished chemotherapy treatment #14 out of a total of 16, and the possibility of surgery and radiation still ahead.

“I miss my hair. I had long, thick, beautiful hair,” she said. “Now my husband has more than me, even with his shaved head.” She lost her grandmother to lung cancer, and her father to pancreatic cancer – a chilling reminder that the “Big C” touches everyone, highlighting the need to stay strong and redouble efforts in fighting it.

“I’m glad to help. This is an amazing event for cancer research,” said Ross. “When I think of how things used to be, people didn’t have all the treatment options like I do today.”

Another cancer survivor, Gary Landis, along with his wife Anne, will be honored with the Grado Award, in recognition of their efforts raising funds for the cause. Gary created the “Shoot Down Kids’ Cancer” annual sporting clays program in 2011 and has raised over $500,000 with it. This year’s shoot will be held March 16 at Port of the Islands.

A few additional details spilled by Shanahan included the menu, snapper and filet, and that the live auction will be mercifully brief, with only a limited number of items. One additional tidbit is the “Diamond Dig” sponsored by Kathein Jewelers, with a grand prize of a “gorgeous pair of 2-carat-plus total weight diamond earrings.”

For tickets or more information, or to make a donation, please contact the American Cancer Society Marco Island office at 239-642-6217, or email Sue.Olszak@cancer.org.

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