Hundreds rally to beat cancer in Mt. Lebanon

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Hundreds of people turned out Sunday night for the second annual "Knock Out Cancer!" event at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon, including one famous housewife from Orange County, Calif.

"This is very much a big deal for me," said Gretchen Rossi, one of the stars of Bravo TV's reality show "The Real Housewives of Orange County," which recently began filming its eighth season. "This is a cause that's very near and dear to my heart."

That's because Ms. Rossi's grandfather died from bone cancer, while acute leukemia claimed her fiance Jeff Beitzel in September of 2008.

Dec. 22, 2007, the day Mr. Beitzel received his diagnosis, was "a day that was forever ingrained in my mind," Ms. Rossi said. "My life forever changed that day. It was a hard path that Jeff and I followed for nine months."

These days, Ms. Rossi, 35, is helping her live-in boyfriend, Slade Smiley, 44, come to grips with the rare brain cancer that his 12-year-old son is fighting.

Mr. Smiley, who attended the event with his girlfriend -- he was almost as popular among the ladies as Ms. Rossi -- said his son Grayson is still recovering, a month after his 13th brain surgery since his tumor was discovered in 2005.

"He's still putting up a good fight," said Mr. Smiley, who said the surgery was necessary to reduce the tumor size enough to make the tumor more responsive to chemotherapy treatments. "It has affected our lives in such a major way."

The boy remains in the intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital "fighting for his life," Ms. Rossi said.

She wrote a song to help him get through the sometimes-painful treatments, called "Unbreakable."

The couple sponsor their own cancer fundraiser each year, called the "Magic of Giving," focused on helping families and children cope with cancer diagnoses, and Ms. Rossi donates proceeds from the sale of her "I Go Pink" collection to The Breast Cancer Charities of America. The collection, available at www.gretchenchristine.com, features a luggage travel set, a signature satchel and wallet from her handbag line, and other pink-themed items aimed at raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Ms. Rossi was a favorite among the throng of fans, including Shannon Brady, 30, of Ross, who turned out to meet her and get her photo taken with the reality star.

"This is such a great cause," she said. "I watch the show, so I know that cancer has affected her."

Though the couple weren't spilling any details about whether they might be engaged, Ms. Rossi was sporting what appeared to be a canary-yellow diamond ring on her left ring finger. Mr. Smiley said fans of the show would have to tune in this season to find out whether the two will finally tie the knot.

Sunday's event was sponsored by Clear Channel Radio and the Galleria, and it raised awareness and money for several cancer organizations, including the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the Obediah Cole Foundation for Prostate Cancer, the Young Women's Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

A 16-year prostate cancer survivor, Jerry Bortman, 76, of Peters said the Obediah Cole Foundation was represented at the event to promote the importance of early detection in successful cancer treatment.

"We're here to alert men to get checked annually for prostate cancer with a simple blood test from your doctor," he said.

But the real driving force behind the event -- as with the same event last year that raised $6,000 for the same charities -- has been Mary Beth Beggy, 45, a general sales manager at Clear Channel who has survived bouts with breast cancer in 2009 and colon cancer in 2010.

Ms. Beggy, of Mt. Lebanon, battled through chemotherapy and radiation treatments earlier this year, and will undergo surgery next week to remove parts of the cancer that have moved to her lungs.

Former Galleria manager Carole DeAngelo honored her friend with a "championship title belt" for winning the fight of her life.

"You are a survivor," Ms. DeAngelo said during the presentation. "You are my inspiration. This is for all the love and support you have given us."

neigh_south - health - tvradio

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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