Brian Venneman: Mammoth Legend and Cancer Outreach Program Founder

Brian Venneman was as “Mammoth” as one could get, says Dr. Yuri Parisky, his friend and the physician who first detected Brian’s lymphoma in 2001. Brian always had three or more jobs. Chimney sweep. Golf course manager. Ski tech and instructor. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, he was in his early 30s, and like any young person trying to make it in a ski town, he had multiple reasons why it took him a while to gear himself up to go to USC’s Norris Cancer Center for treatment.

Brian Venneman in Hawaii, one of his favorite places in the world outside of Mammoth Lakes.

By the time he made it to the oncologist in Los Angeles, says Dr. Parisky, “he was so sick, his anesthesiologist was afraid to put him under.”

But Brian diligently began his treatments. He would travel down to USC for chemotherapy and radiation every few weeks, and because he didn’t have family in Los Angeles, the travel was extremely taxing.

“He would get his treatments, start his drive back to Mammoth, and pull over at Coso Junction to throw up,” says Dr. Parisky. “It really broke him. He wanted to make sure that nobody else had to have that experience, so he initiated the Cancer Outreach Fund.”

In 2001, Brian’s friend Dennis Hurlburt and a few other golf enthusiasts decided to hold a fundraiser at the Bishop Country Club to support Brian. “It probably raised about $15,000,” says Dennis, who was himself diagnosed with cancer in 2021 and became a beneficiary of the program he helped to found.

Slowly, Brian recovered. He started skiing again, and golfing. He met the love of his life, Jennifer Heintzelman, and the two were married in December 2012, in a ceremony that was also about as “Mammoth” as it gets—Brian skied down through the Hole in the Wall rock formation at Twin Lakes, his suit on underneath his gear and his shoes in his backpack. Jennifer waited below in a white faux fur jacket. Judge Ed Forstenzer performed the brief ceremony (it was freezing out).  

But in August of that same year, a mole began to concern Brian. It was biopsied and the results were devastating—metastatic melanoma. “I will never forget breaking the news to him,” says Dr. Parisky. “I knew how the story was going to end.”

Brian and Jen decided to drive an RV across the country with their beloved dog, Kanga, visiting national parks along the way. It was something Brian had always wanted to do, and it was made possible by a fundraiser at Snowcreek Golf Course. Brian passed away on August 23, 2014, surrounded by his family. His ashes were scattered from the top of the Sherwins mountain range, one of his favorite spots to backcountry ski.

Brian’s legacy, Dr. Parisky says, is in the Cancer Outreach Fund that has allowed Eastern Sierra cancer patients to fight their battles with the support of their entire community behind them. Each year, the Brian Venneman Memorial Cancer Outreach Golf Tournament brings our community together to raise funds for the program. Judge Forstenzer’s wife, Sandi, volunteers every year.

“Most of our patients now are going to be survivors,” says Dr. Parisky. Early detection is a key factor in these outcomes. Tools like Mammoth Hospital’s 3-D Tomosynthesis machine, made possible by Mammoth Hospital Foundation donors, have resulted in more cancers being diagnosed while they are still treatable.

For those patients, says Dr. Parisky, the Cancer Outreach Fund is a much-needed resource during their relatively short period of treatment. “This fund ensures our patients have the support they need during such a difficult time in their lives.”