March 23, 2009
Events benefit breast cancer research
Relay for Life teams raise thousands in advance of the June event at SUNY Cortland
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Toni Gallagher of the Relay for Life team Walkie Talkies, right, greets Carol Baldwin Saturday as she arrives at a Relay for Life fundraiser at the Dark Horse Tavern in Cortland.
A year has passed since Marilyn Finney discovered she has breast cancer.
About 19 years have passed since Carol Baldwin found herself in the same situation.
Finney plans to return to work part-time this month. Baldwin, mother of the acting Baldwin brothers, continues to raise thousands of dollars for breast cancer research through her famous name.
Theirs and many other stories came together Saturday afternoon at three fundraising events in downtown Cortland.
The Dark Horse Tavern played host to an American Cancer Society Relay for Life team’s party, donating the $10 entrance fee and $1 per drink. The bar also sponsored an appearance by Baldwin, who is the namesake of two breast cancer research funds. Next door, the downstairs of Hairy Tony’s played host to another Relay for Life team’s party.
The Dark Horse’s party benefited the Walkie Talkies, 24 women who have been doing the Relay for Life event at SUNY Cortland in June for several years. It raised $2,537, according to team captain Carol Reed, who said the group raised $25,000 last year through year-round efforts.
The party at Hairy Tony’s benefited a team called The Crew, composed of 14 women, which raised just under $1,000, said team co-captain Tessa Kristof. This was their first year.
The Dark Horse presented a pledge to Baldwin of $5,000 for a fund that bears her name and sponsors research at SUNY Upstate Medical Center. About $2,000 of it has been raised through the bar’s T-shirt sales and other efforts. The rest is to be raised by the end of the year.
Bar owner George Seibel presented a large check representing the money raised so far, about $2,000, and the pledge for the rest of it.
The Dark Horse raised the money in memory of Nancy Schwenn Mack, wife of Homer Police Chief Dan Mack, who died of breast cancer on Feb. 4.
Baldwin’s daughter, Beth Keuchler, said the upstate fund will name a $50,000 research grant for 2011 after Nancy and two of her sisters, Cindy and Pamela, who also died of the disease.
The fund will also endow a lecture in honor of a fourth Schwenn sister, Lynn Schwenn Johnson, who has the breast cancer gene and will be taking medical steps to prevent breast cancer from developing.
“This is a surprise, very gratifying,” Dan Mack said of the bar’s events. “It’s a good feeling that so many people came.”
The Walkie Talkies had sold 150 tickets at $10 apiece, plus dozens of raffle tickets, before Baldwin and Keuchler arrived at 3 p.m.
Relay for Life raises money for research into all kinds of cancer, but breast cancer was the main focus on this day.
“Everyone here has had breast cancer, knows someone who has it or knew someone who passed away from it,” said team member Dottie Peters.
Finney, 51, said her ordeal began on March 3, 2008, after weeks where she felt tired and lost a great deal of weight for no apparent reason. She had major surgery followed by radiation treatment and chemotherapy, and is in remission.
“I plan to return to work part-time at Cortland Regional Medical Center, where I’m an outpatient registration clerk,” she said. “I owe so much to people in Cortland for their support, from my family to my second family at the hospital, to the St. Mary’s Church parish. This community should be very proud.”
Baldwin knows the feeling. Several years after her husband died of lung cancer, she discovered in 1990 that she had breast cancer and had to fight it.
“I’m there to support them,” she said, nodding to the women around the room, many of whom were waiting to say hello or have their picture taken with her. “My daughter and I sit with the families at the hospital. People don’t understand how tough it is on families.”
Her celebrity as the mother of Alec, Billy, Daniel and Stephen Baldwin has helped her raise $4 million since 1996 for the fund in her name that benefits Stony Brook University Medical Center’s Breast Care Center. The Syracuse fund named after her has raised $1 million since 2002 for research at Upstate.
A Syracuse native and Syracuse University graduate, Baldwin, 79, moved to Camillus from Long Island while she recovered from her illness. Keuchler and her family live in Camillus.
“We don’t want to be a national organization,” Keuchler said. “We’re from New York, one end of New York and now here. We endow research grants every year in the name of someone who has passed away. We have them named for this year and 2010, so the 2011 grant will be for this family (the Schwenn sisters).”
She said the lectureship endowments are dedicated to survivors. Lynn Schwenn Johnson has not had the disease but is at risk, according to medical tests that show she has a gene associated with it.
Keuchler said she and her mother spend almost every weekend visiting fundraisers like Saturday’s.
The Walkie Talkies have raised $164,000 for cancer research in the past six years through parties, raffles and selling luminaria, the little candles inside bags that go around the track during the June Relay for Life event at SUNY Cortland’s Davis Field.
Reed is a breast cancer survivor.
“It’s been 14 years for me,” she said. “I think about it every day. But each year, we are making progress in research.”
Reed’s Walkie Talkies T-shirt bore the images of two friends who died of cancer. She said her mother died of brain cancer.
“This is with you every day of your life,” she said.
At the party in Hairy Tony’s basement, Kristof and co-captain Chrissy Loomis said they had taken over The Crew from Kristof’s mother, Cecilia, to carry on the fight.
They wore T-shirts that said, “Never doubt a small group of people can change the world.”
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