There’s a question you would expect any dying 28-year-old to ask. And why wouldn’t he ask it when he found himself being robbed of his future at the precise time he was supposed to see nothing but future in front of him? But 20 years ago, with Brian Silber in pain and suffering from a malignant spinal cord tumor, those who loved him learned just what a unique man he was when they realized that Brian had never – not once – asked that question.
The tumor that took Silber was so rare that little was known about how to treat it. “At that time there was really no place we could go for help; we had to go to brain tumor clinics because there was nothing for spinal cord tumors,” explained Brian’s mother, Sharon Silber. For the first year-and-a-half of his illness, Brian was misdiagnosed. Then, when he was properly identified as having a spinal cord tumor, he went through multiple surgeries in Boston and New York, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. He lived for about a year-and-a-half after that before succumbing on July 2, 1996.
Before being diagnosed with cancer, Brian had a bright and promising future ahead of him. He attended St. John’s Prep in Danvers, where he participated in extra curricular activities such as varsity basketball, baseball, and tennis. From there he got his B.A. in economics at Tufts University, where he also played baseball.
Post graduation, he was in a three-year management-training program. “Many people in the company said they wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being the president of the company because he was a rising professional,” added Sharon. He was also engaged to a “lovely” woman who remains in touch with Sharon and Jason, Brian’s father. Aside from his success in school, sports and love, Brian’s compassion was a unique trait, says his mother. “He was a very giving person.”
When Brian was in the traveler’s training program he got up in the morning, despite excruciating back pain from the tumor, and went to a homeless shelter to feed the hungry. “All while he was ill and in pain,” Sharon added. Furthermore, during his time at Tufts he started a Habitat for Humanity chapter at the school and he would help construct homes.
After his death, the Brian D. Silber Memorial Fund was established to support research on spinal cord tumors and to improve the outcome for spine tumor patients. Fundraising for the charity was strong, so Dr. Jay Loessler and others at MGH suggested that they continue fundraising. Loessler came up with the idea to hold a golf tournament to raise funds.
Brian’s Fund has made annual grants to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the total contributions have reached over $2.1 million. The progress that has been made at MGH over the past 19 years includes the Establishment of the Brian D. Silber Spine Tumor Clinic at MGH, a first-of-its-kind spine tumor clinic that supports treatment, education and a research laboratory in memory of Brian and the sponsorship of 13 Brian Silber Lectureships.
In the golf tournament’s nineteenth year running, MGH told Sharon and Jason that the longevity of the golf tournament is unusual in the realm of this type of charity event. Brian’s is the longest running golf tournament affiliated with Mass. General and is scheduled this year for Wednesday, July 20, at the Meadow at Peabody Golf Course in Peabody. A dinner reception follows at Spinelli’s in Lynnfield.
Brian’s family and family friends attend the tournament, his co-workers attend the tournament, his high school friends, his fraternity brothers and friends from Tufts attend, people from Florida, Atlanta, California, Texas, and so on. “They come back year after year for the tournament and I think that’s what’s special.”
According to Jason, the success of the golf tournament is due to the fact that it is a first class event, Brian’s friends continue to come from all over the country, and because Brian was a highly respected and well-liked man. But some credit should also be given to the hard physical labor that goes into running the tournament, without pay.
The proceeds from the golf tournament benefit the Brian D. Silber Memorial Fund. The tournament is 100% volunteers. “There is no payroll whatsoever,” said Jason. The family works the tournament without taking any profit, and the money raised has been seed money for the doctors to receive millions of dollars in grants for research. The Fund supports the operation of the Spine Tumor Clinic in Brian’s memory at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me that Brian was the son every parent ever wanted,” Jason said. His voice cracked ever so slightly and he added, “of course he’s my son so I praise him, but he was unique, he was different.”
Sharon described him as having an engaging, upbeat personality. “During his entire time that he suffered he fought through it with a wonderful attitude.”
Regarding that question that Brian never asked? He never asked it because he already knew, and he used to tell his parents the answer. “He never, ever, ever once said why did this happen to me? He just said ‘things happen, it’s just the luck of the draw.’”