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One Royal Dame

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Sep 21, 2016
One Royal Dame

As president of Florida’s Royal Dames of Cancer Research, Carole Nugent’s royal decree is to wipe out the Big C.

Call it coincidence, or kismet, but in 2011 Carole Nugent found herself exactly where she needed to be. At the moment a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, Nugent was offered an honor she couldn’t refuse: co-chairing Fort Lauderdale’s renowned Tiara Ball, the philanthropic fete of the season created by the nearly 50-year-old cancer-fighting force, the Royal Dames of Cancer Research.

But don’t let the name fool you—the Tiara Ball isn’t all bubble-filled flutes and grand gowns. It raises money—lots of it—to fuel the fight to end cancer. As president of the Royals since 2013, Nugent and her co-Dames brought in a record-busting $6 million for Nova Southeastern University Rumbaugh-Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research (RGI). It just takes the right combo of grit and sparkle.

What has been the driving force behind the Dames over the decades?

The Royal Dames started out as a sisterhood of dedicated women and we still are today. Membership is by invitation only and on the recommendation of three members. We are considered one of the oldest continuing, non-profit organizations in Broward County.

What research have you funded and what difference has it made?

We focus mainly on breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Through our funding, RGI has received several patents. Two are for the cancer-fighting drugs F16 and JFD-WS. Talks are underway to license both of these drugs for clinical trials here in the U.S. and abroad. Very recently, we also received a Korean patent for the JFD drug.

What’s the most exciting part of your work?

To be part of taking a drug from test tube to the brink of clinical trials is quite an accomplishment. Most drugs don’t get out of the experimental stages. RGI has received two prestigious grants to advance studies in a new cancer treatment strategy using phycocyanin, a compound extracted from algae that grows in our own Florida Everglades. RGI is also developing a cancer metastasis prediction system for prostate cancer, which we hope will work like prediction systems developed for breast cancer.

You get a lot accomplished for a small group. How do you do it? 

National organizations usually have a paid CEO with a large staff. I think a nonprofit should be lean and mean. We are completely voluntary with no paid positions. RGI at Nova Southeastern University encourages all the Dames to come and see the scientists at work. We know where our money is going because we see our funds in action.

What moments have really moved you as a Royal Dame?

Cancer is an insidious disease. I don’t think there are too many of us who have had a relative or a friend who has not battled cancer. Last year, for the first time at our Tiara Ball, we decided to honor people who have faced this formidable foe. This year our honoree was to have been Doreen Koenig, who was, along with her husband, Keith, the founder of City Furniture in Florida. Doreen was so excited about being honored. She fought valiantly, but she lost her battle with cancer. We are committed this year to honoring her memory. It has inspired us to be more determined than ever to keep fighting and to keep raising funds.