Mary Beth Beggy-Fischerkeller, right, greets walkers Sunday at the beginning of the annual Cancer Caring Center fundraising walk at the Waterfront in Homestead.
By Janice Crompton Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Celebrating 25 years of helping patients and their loved ones deal with the difficult realities of a cancer diagnosis, the Cancer Caring Center on Sunday hosted its annual 4K walk in Homestead.
More than 150 supporters gathered for the Walk at the Waterfront, at the scenic Great Allegheny Passage, enjoying the unusually warm and sunny autumn morning while raising funds and awareness for a cause that's close to their hearts.
"I've been a top-10 fundraiser for 25 years," said Paul Gruver of Penn Hills, who lost his wife Nancy in 1988 to spinal cancer. "It's grown so much since it started."
Mr. Gruver has raised about $1,500 per year for the Bloomfield-based center. A retired business owner, Mr. Gruver said he used the center's services when his wife was ill to learn how to plan meals for his wife and teenage daughter.
The center offers a wide range of free services, including a telephone help line, 16 area support groups and private counseling from a certified therapist.
"We have support groups throughout the city," said Rebecca Whitlinger, executive director of the Cancer Caring Center. "We make support convenient and accessible."
The group also offers several different types of therapy, including pet therapy, Reiki, art therapy, hands-on therapy and yoga.
The pet therapy is especially loved by children, Ms. Whitlinger said, whether they are going through cancer themselves or watching a loved one deal with the disease. The program is offered through a partnership with Animal Friends, with certified therapy dogs and handlers.
On Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will sponsor their annual fashion show. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cancer Caring Center and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
For clients who qualify, the center offers liquid nutrition and other nourishment after chemotherapy treatments in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
"We see a lot of uninsured and underinsured patients," Ms. Whitlinger said.
"Whatever they need, we strive to provide," said Mary Beth Beggy-Fischerkeller, president of the center's board of directors.
Carole Buffington remembers the first few years after the center opened in 1988, shortly before she had a bout with breast cancer.
"There were very, very few support groups back then," said Mrs. Buffington, 70, of Peters, who survived stage one cancer in 1990. "Cancer was a quiet disease at that time."
Still, Mrs. Buffington said the center distinguished itself by facilitating discussions with professionals in the medical and mental health fields. "They treat you like family," she said of the various groups. "They are more than a support group."
The family of the late Tim Kozlowski has used the annual walk as a family reunion of sorts since 2009, when Mr. Kozlowski died of colon cancer.
"We do this together every year since my dad died," said his daughter, Becki Kelton of Oakdale, who came to the event with about two dozen supporters, all sporting T-shirts picturing Mr. Kozlowski crossing the finish line of the Great Race. "He was a runner. He called himself the Polish Flash."
Corporate sponsors included Red Robin, Eat'n Park and 3WS Radio, which provided food and prizes. Panera Bread provided coffee and pink ribbon bagels, sales from which benefit the center and breast cancer charities throughout the month of October.
Ms. Whitlinger said the center can offer help for just about anyone who loves a cancer patient, no matter what their connection is to the disease. Each year, the center spends about $450,000 on programming, and supporters believe it's money well spent.
"Every dollar counts," Ms. Beggy-Fischerkeller said. "We can really maximize the money we give."
Tickets for the Steelers Fashion Show, at 6 p.m. in the East Club at Heinz Field, are still available for $250 per person by calling 412-802-8256.