Fighting Cancer –
How and Why We Got Involved by Jamie Cohen
“I believe that everything happens for a reason.”
My name is Jamie Cohen and I believe that everything happens for a reason. I am the Brand Management Director for Jason’s Deli and have been fortunate to be an employee of this amazing company for 19 years. I am truly blessed with a beautiful family, friends, career and life in general. Then, on 11/17/11 that was all shaken to the core. My wife Monique, whom you will meet in another story, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. I wish I could tell you about the emotions I felt but the reality is, I was numb. You want to experience anger or sadness or any number of other emotions but you can’t. At first, you simply don’t know how to act or feel. After consulting doctors in Austin, my wife was given a very scary prognosis and an aggressive treatment recommendation, including a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Now I can tell you why I believe we are all part of a bigger plan.
In 1976, Jason’s Deli was started by Joe and Shelley Tortorice. Joe was given this opportunity by a wonderful Jewish man named Ben Rogers, a local developer and businessman who wanted a kosher-style deli in Beaumont and had space in the Gateway Shopping Center. In 1994, I started with the company as a manager in Austin, Texas when we had 22 restaurants. Fast forward to December, 2011. When I told Joe about Monique’s diagnosis, he said, “Jamie, you have the best cancer facility in the world 2.5 hours down the road from you. I think you should talk to someone there.” It is difficult for me to describe Joe’s charisma; he is just one of those people in a room full of strangers, to whom people just gravitate. He is a natural leader. He has been to me and many of my peers, an amazing mentor, showing us by example how to be better leaders, business people, fathers, husbands and servant leaders by making the lives of our families, employees and communities better. When he makes a suggestion, we listen.
After we made our appointment at MD Anderson, we were contacted by Regina Rogers, a longtime family friend of Joe and Shelley’s, who also happens to be Ben Rogers’ daughter, a member of MD Anderson Board of Directors, as well as Chair of the The Julie Rogers’ “Gift of Life” organization, dedicated to helping the medically underserved of Southeast Texas. Regina is an amazing woman who has dedicated her life to helping others. She asked how she could help us – two people she had never met – and gave us the name of someone in guest services to answer any questions we had, along with a very large box filled with inspirational gifts. This was the beginning of a wonderful relationship and very important part of this story. A few days later Monique and I were sitting in the May’s clinic waiting room, 5th floor. I looked up and saw we were sitting in the Julie and Ben Rogers Breast Diagnostic Clinic. I showed Monique and told her at that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. This was a sign. This was why we were there. Needless to say, we had a long, difficult year that, thank G-d, ended well.
I will never forget Regina or MD Anderson and have kept in constant contact with her. I said to Regina, “I don’t know how, but I know I want to give back and help others. We have a very powerful Brand with a large footprint and I know Jason’s Deli can partner with MD Anderson to help them in some way.” Around this time, I read an amazing book called “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra. This book refers a lot to the concept that everything happens for a reason and by design. One of the seven laws is the Law of Dharma or “Purpose in Life.” It states that each of us has a unique talent and we will have the opportunity to use this talent to help others. This is where the story comes full circle. I don’t know how many unique talents I have but I do know I have one: the ability to get things done on a very large scale. I couldn’t tell you or anyone else how I do things, I have no process, I just get it done. Near the end of 2012, I got a call from Regina telling me that Dr. DePinho, the president of MD Anderson, had challenged his people with the BHAG called the Moon Shots Program with the goal of eradicating mortality rates from 8 types of cancer by 2024. This was our opportunity. This is how we, as Jason’s Deli, the Brand that has tried to improve people’s lives in the communities we serve, can do even more. This is how we can put our money where our mouths are – do more than write a check – and truly get involved.
I am proud to be part of this company and proud of the senior leadership of Jason’s Deli. This is a huge commitment but one I know will impact the lives of everyone touched by this disease, as the work done at MD Anderson impacts treatments everywhere.
I want to thank my Jason’s family for taking a chance on hiring me 19 years ago and supporting me and my family through this ordeal. I want to thank MD Anderson for the tremendous care they provided to Monique and thank DeDe DeStefano for working tirelessly with her leadership there to make this happen. I want my wife Monique and my children, Shay, Madeleine and Sophia, to know how proud I am of them and the strength and courage they showed last year. Finally, I want to thank whatever cosmic or spiritual entity for connecting Ben and Joe 37 years ago, the event that allowed Shelley Tortorice and Regina Rogers, true angels on Earth, to present this wonderful opportunity to our Brand.
This is how and why we got involved.