By Sarah Garcia - November 13, 2023
Enter the atrium of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Vincent A. Stabile Research Building on any given weeknight and you’ll hear the typical sounds. Lab doors opening and closing. Footsteps clicking down the open corridors. Sometimes the repetitive swish of a mop, the low hum of a floor scrubber or the mechanical whirring of the elevators.
But on most Thursday nights, you’ll hear different kinds of sounds. The clear taps of a drumstick count in. The funky thump of a bass guitar. The bright and chirpy pluck of the mandolin. Warm, woody strums on the acoustic guitar or hard-driving sounds of the electric guitar. The colorful chime of each stroke of the piano keys. Boomy kicks of the bass drum. The belting, scatting and twang of the leading vocals.
Each instrument and its musician can stand on their own but collectively form a beautiful collaborative and resulting sound. It’s a sound that has become far more ordinary at Moffitt these days, thanks to The ReMissions and their weekly practice.
Founding the Band
The ReMissions was formed in 2020 after Dr. Patrick Hwu took the helm as president and CEO of Moffitt. Music has always played an important role in Hwu’s life. “It’s helped me find balance in my life, and I have formed bands in every job I’ve held over the past 35 years, starting with my internship at Johns Hopkins,” he said. “I am fortunate to have found such great friends and musicians among our team here at Moffitt.”
When he’s not leading the center, seeing patients or working in his lab, Hwu plays on the keyboard or piano. The band has grown to include eight members, plus a few special guest bandmates. The lineup includes musicians who work in a variety of roles including a security officer, researcher, code nurse and radiologist.
"Music is a common ground for people. Whether we’re playing for or with patients or using it as a springboard to raise funds for cancer research, music can spur so much hope for so many, and we’re grateful to come together to have fun for a cause."- Dr. Patrick Hwu, President and CEO
The sounds resonating throughout the atrium on Thursday evenings are welcomed and joyful noise in an otherwise quiet space. Jonathan Fernandez, Environmental Services lead, is usually working during the band’s practices. “When Dr. Hwu and the band are playing, team members really enjoy hearing the music,” he said. “It makes working the evening shift more enjoyable.”
Jeff Leighton, bass player for The ReMissions, describes it as euphoria. “When we’re playing well and having a good practice or gig, it transforms you,” he said. “There’s a peace and tranquility that goes along with making music.” Like most of his bandmates, music has been a part of Leighton’s life since he was very young.
Drummer Ron Zalva said some might call it an escape, but to him, “Music is what feelings sound like.” He’s been playing since he was 5 years old. “I fell in love with the drums and would play for hours every day, but my parents never complained.”
Something every member of The ReMissions can agree upon is the power music holds within their lives. Dr. Dana Ataya, vocalist, said music has been a part of her life since she was a child.
“It’s always been the way I’ve processed and explored emotions and experiences — both personally and as a physician and caregiver,” Ataya said. “It helps me reenergize so I can be the best version of myself for my patients, my family and my community.” She calls herself “musically powered,” a term coined by Dr. Mark Robertson-Tessi, mandolin player in the band.
The power of music also runs deep for vocalist Dr. Shelley Tworoger and her husband, Mike, who plays the bass and guitar. In 2004, Shelley Tworoger was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which led to some mobility impairment. As a hiker, soccer player, and someone who biked and loved spending time outdoors, it affected everything about who she was. “I really had to change my identity,” she said.
“When we were going through that process of accepting this new reality, music was one of the things we could still do together,” Mike Tworoger said. Shelley Tworoger adds that music “helped me find a place where I had passion and could find joy, even during difficult times.”
For guitar player Dr. Jim Mulé, music holds a special power almost akin to time travel. He said it has a way of taking you back to moments in the past. “For pretty much every important event in my life, there’s a song that I can relate to it.”
Gigs for Good
Beyond their love and enthusiasm for music, The ReMissions connect on another important level. As Moffitt team members, they are all driven by the cancer center’s mission: contributing to the prevention and cure of cancer.
“We’re united by our passion for music and our purpose — a mission to improve cancer outcomes for our patients,” Ataya said.
“So much of what we do at Moffitt can be serious and even difficult in many ways,” Robertson-Tessi said. The band started as a way to make music, unplug and decompress after a long day of work, but it has evolved into something of even greater significance.
“Music gives us a different way to connect, in a universal and uplifting way,” he said. “I hope we can continue to make connections to the people around us through the music, whether it’s patients, supporters, colleagues or the community as a whole.”
Shelley Tworoger thinks music is the one thing everyone can share. “It isn’t biased or critical. It’s not political, you know?” she said. “Music is just pure in so many ways.”
From opening the annual Magnolia Ball gala to raising funds for colorectal cancer in Sun City Center or gearing up thousands of runners at Miles for Moffitt, The ReMissions have truly hit the road on a one-of-a-kind musical tour backed by both passion and purpose.
“Music is a common ground for people,” Hwu said. “Whether we’re playing for or with patients or using it as a springboard to raise funds for cancer research, music can spur so much hope for so many, and we’re grateful to come together to have fun for a cause.”
Meet The ReMissions
Patrick Hwu, M.D., President and CEO
- Instruments: Keyboard, piano, guitar and trumpet
- Most memorable gig: Our holiday caroling gig because it’s such a joyous time in front of our team members along with a number of special guest vocalists who work at Moffitt.
Dana Ataya, M.D., Breast Radiologist
- Instruments: Vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, harmonica
- Most memorable gig: Snapshots of Courage at Moffitt’s McKinley Outpatient Center last fall. It brought courageous breast cancer stories to life through patient-selected photos.
Jeff Leighton, Registered Nurse
- Instruments: Bass and guitar
- Favorite music genre: Progressive jazz or anything that’s too complicated for me to play
- Favorite song to play: “Piece of My Heart”
Ronald “Ron” Zalva, Security
- Instruments: Drums
- Favorite music genre: Jazz, blues and rock
- Most memorable gig: Magnolia Ball, Mole Patrol and DPR Construction open house
James “Jim” Mulé, Ph.D., Associate Center Director, Translational Science
- Instruments: Electric and resonator guitar
- Favorite songs to play: “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Mark Robertson-Tessi, Ph.D., Researcher, Mathematical Oncology
- Instruments: Mandolin, guitar
- Favorite music genre: A wide variety. Outside of popular genres, I listen to traditional Irish music, classical, acoustic and ambient.
Shelley Tworoger, Ph.D., Associate Center Director, Population Science
- Instruments: Vocalist, piano
- Most memorable gig: The Moffitt McKinley Hospital grand opening. The energy was incredible.
Mike Tworoger, Manager, Research Support Services
- Instruments: Bass guitar, guitar
- Favorite music genre: I go through phases. I like melodic music that has good energy and good songwriting.
The ReMissions Special Guests
Ask the band who Vince DiMartino is and you will hear answers ranging from “he’s incredible” to “he can shred it up.” DiMartino is a world-renowned professional trumpet player who has played with many of the jazz greats but also happens to be a patient at Moffitt. He was connected to Hwu and The ReMissions during one of his appointments, and the rest was history. DiMartino routinely joins the band for practices and special gigs. Playing alongside someone of DiMartino’s caliber is one thing, but for the band members, it’s even more special making music with someone who is living proof of the importance of their work.
Dr. Samson Lu
Samson Lu is a former radiology resident and interventional radiology fellow at the University of South Florida and Moffitt. Lu has played the violin for 30 years and met Ataya, who invited him to join the band, through his breast imaging rotations. “With this last year being my final year of residency, it hasn’t been easy making it to practices and gigs,” Lu said. “But being with The ReMissions is always fun. It’s the No. 1 rule: Have fun!” Even as an occasional band member, Lu on the violin has added a special touch to so many of the band’s performances, and he hopes to join more over the coming year.