UNIVERSITY PARK — As eight-year cancer survivor Catherine Ohara stood on the Bryce Jordan Center floor in front of more than 14,000 people Sunday, she was awestruck.
“It’s a feeling that you’ll never ever ever forget,” she said.
She and 620 other breast cancer survivors, who totaled more than 3,000 years of cancer survivorship, were honored Sunday during the halftime ceremony at the annual Lady Lions Pink Zone game to raise funds for breast cancer research. The No. 7 Lady Lions beat Michigan 68-57 and clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship in front of the fourth largest crowd in the team’s history.
The preliminary fundraising total was $182,824.44, which doesn’t include $3 donations from single game ticket sales, T-shirt sales or the CharityBuzz.com online auction, according to a news release from Penn State.
Pennsylvania Pink Zone Executive Director Miriam Powell said goals for cancer survivors in attendance and overall attendance were met, and she is optimistic that the overall fundraising goal of netting $250,000 will be as well.
She said the annual event is really a sight that needs to be seen to be believed.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “We really do talk about it as a sea of pink.”
Powell said planning the event was challenging because she was running around, making sure everything was running smoothly and missed much of the game, but she made sure to get there for the halftime ceremony.
Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien sat courtside in a pink shirt to show support for the effort. O’Brien said the game hit close to home because his mother is a cancer survivor.
He said events like the Pink Zone and the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon are an embodiment of what the university represents.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Penn State does its part to help fund cancer research,” he said in an interview with the CDT.
O’Brien said it was overwhelming seeing all the women on the court at halftime and seeing a representation of just how many people cancer affects.
One of those women, Cindy Aston, said events that bring cancer survivors together are big because a support system is a must when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. She attends a group meet-up once a month in Huntingdon to gain support from other women who are going through cancer. Aston is a four-year cancer survivor, who said she is now 99 percent cancer-free.
She added that cancer research is very important. She saw the advancements firsthand in cancer treatment over her time fighting the disease and saw where fundraising dollars went.
Ohara also likes to reach out to women affected by the disease and let them know it’s not the end of the world. She said having a feeling of panic is normal after being diagnosed but, especially with the benefit of early detection, cancer is beatable.
Powell doesn’t know how much bigger the annual event can get but thinks it’s headed in the right direction. More national exposure could help it to grow and she will be looking to get more corporate sponsorships and student participation for the 2014 game.
The event was a little extra sweet for her this year because the Lady Lions pulled out a big win on Senior Day and clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
“That was some nice icing on the cake at the end,” she said. “It certainly added to the celebratory nature of the day.”
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.