Bret Michaels rocks Galleria in fundraiser for cancer research


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The abundance of teased hair and black eyeliner made an event Sunday at The Galleria of Mt. Lebanon look more like an 1980s hair-band concert than a fundraiser for cancer research.

But, the explanation was simple, as four friends from the Mon Valley shouted when asked what drew them to the third annual Knockout Cancer! event: "Bret Michaels!"

The aging but always-hip blond musician, clad in a black Steelers headband and skinny jeans, thrilled the throngs of fans. Many turned out to get their photo taken with the front man for rock band Poison, 50, from Lyndora, Butler County, saying the event sent them into a time warp, back to their teenage years.

"It's a lot of fun," said Beth Calloway of Belle Vernon, who came with three friends for a girls night out and to remember their friend Anna Sothergill, who died of cancer.

The women bought VIP tickets and got their photo taken with Mr. Michaels. Afterward, they were giddy.

"This is a very good cause, and we're happy to be here," said Linda Leach of Pittsburgh.

The event, co-sponsored by the Galleria and Clear Channel Communities, has raised thousands of dollars during the past three years for the Young Women's Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation, Obediah Cole Foundation for Prostate Cancer, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Jerry Bortman, 77, of Peters is a 17-year survivor of prostate cancer; he said he volunteers as vice president of the Obediah Cole Foundation so that he can help spread awareness of the disease, which he said is striking more young men.

"Many younger men have a more aggressive form [of cancer], that's why we push them to get tested," Mr. Bortman said.

By their early 40s, Mr. Bortman said, men should have a baseline PSA -- or prostate-specific antigen -- blood test done to make early detection easier.

"It saved my life," he said of the test. "It saves many guys."

Brian and Janelle Urban of Baldwin Borough began volunteering with the group eight years ago, when Mr. Urban lost his father, Jim Urban, to prostate cancer. His uncle and great uncle also had the disease, increasing the chances that the 27-year-old would eventually get it too. He has already taken the blood test and closely monitors his risk factors.

"It's a very preventable cancer if you catch it early," he said.

So, too is ovarian cancer, but it's the detection that has been the problem, said 13-year ovarian cancer survivor Denise Stenzel, 54, of North Huntingdon, who volunteers with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

"Only 25 percent of women are diagnosed at an early stage [of cancer]," Ms. Stenzel said.

"There isn't a diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer, so that's why it's so important to educate women and their families," said Joyce Simons, chair of the local coalition chapter.

The group came to the event to raise awareness and funds, giving away teal bracelets that represented their motto: "Take Early Action and Live."

Ms. Stenzel said women should watch out for unexplained weight gain, bloating, unresolved urinary issues and persistent menopausal symptoms. The cancer is diagnosed through a combination of blood and imaging tests.

"Go to the doctor," Ms. Stenzel said. "Be vigilant."

Those at higher risk include women who have had previous cancer diagnoses, especially breast cancer, along with genetic risk factors among family members.

The coalition sponsors a monthly education series for survivors and families at various hospitals in the Pittsburgh area. Visit the Pittsburgh link at www.ovarian.org for more details.

The four cancer organizations benefiting from the event received 400 tickets to sell for their coffers, while more funds were raised through about 100 general ticket sales, drawings and auctions Sunday night.

This year boasted a record number of ticket sales, according to Mary Beth Beggy-Fischerkeller, 46, of Mt. Lebanon, one of the organizers and a general sales manager at Clear Channel, who has survived bouts with breast cancer in 2009 and colon cancer in 2010.

"We raised the most money this year," she said.

Several shops in the Galleria also helped sponsor the event and stayed open late Sunday to boost sales, part of which was donated to the cause.

"It's a good cause and a fun night," said Michael Rubinstein, owner of Footloose. "We stepped up to the plate. We do it every year."

Mr. Michaels was generous with his time, posing for photos with fans wearing black "Knockout" headbands, including some who were going through cancer treatments. He also took time to speak privately with the media during a brief break.

"I'm back in my hometown so it's great and this is a great cause," said Mr. Michaels, who said he was born in the attic of his childhood home in Lyndora.

"I'm looking into the faces of cancer survivors," he said of the event. Preventing childhood cancer is one of the causes supported by his Life Rocks Foundation, along with diabetes, which Mr. Michaels has struggled with since he was 6.

He now resides in Arizona with his daughters, Raine, 13, and Jorja Bleu, 8.

Mr. Michaels said he always tried to keep active in charitable work throughout his career, but it has been his focus more recently, since he had to deal with several life-threatening issues, including a brain hemorrhage and a previously undiagnosed hole in his heart.

"I'm a guy who likes to keep positive, but this was tough," recalls Mr. Michaels, who raised about $1 million for his foundation and other diabetic causes after winning Celebrity Apprentice 3 in 2010.

Clear Channel senior account executive Joe Seaman said Mr. Michaels was receptive when he was approached to appear at the event earlier this year.

"He was all about -- make it happen, make it work," Mr. Seaman said.

That's because "I love the 'Burgh," Mr. Michaels said. "I'm a true yinzer."

But, Mr. Michaels almost didn't make it to the event when his tour bus was pulled over by police during a detour around Mt. Lebanon, "somewhere off the Orange Belt," Mr. Michaels joked.

After he recognized Mr. Michaels, the police officer offered his help.

"He said he was a huge fan and escorted him here," said Pete Evick, guitarist and manager for Mr. Michaels.


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