Breast cancer survivors celebrate ‘10 years strong’ at annual Pink Zone basketball game

Halftime at the Lady Lions’ 10th Annual Pink Zone game honored 640 cancer survivors on the court during on Sunday. They held signs showing how long they’ve been cancer free.
Halftime at the Lady Lions’ 10th Annual Pink Zone game honored 640 cancer survivors on the court during on Sunday. They held signs showing how long they’ve been cancer free.

Despite her doctor’s diagnosis that it wasn’t cancer, Karen Lindsay, 58, remained unconvinced.

“For years they didn’t know what I had,” she said, “so I literally went to (the library) and copied everything I could find then took it to my doctor.”

Through her research, Lindsay discovered she had Paget’s disease, a rare type of cancer involving the nipple. With a correct diagnosis, she was treated and now celebrates 26 years as a cancer survivor.

Lindsay made the trek from Pittsburgh to join hundreds of other survivors who filled the court during Sunday’s Lady Lions Pink Zone game, which honored the survivors and the year-round efforts of Pink Zone to support education, research and treatment in the field of breast cancer.

From pink lights to pink pompoms, pink T-shirts and pink sneakers, the Bryce Jordan Center was awash in pink. And at the center of it all stood the heroes of the day — the survivors and their families.

It’s a celebration of life that we can stand out there and be sisters.

26-year survivor Karen Lindsay

“It’s a celebration of life that we can stand out there and be sisters,” Lindsay said. “There was almost no support when I had it. I think it’s amazing that they have things like this to support people who are newly going through this.”

More than 640 survivors were welcomed to the court at half time, representing a Pink Zone record of 4,203 years of combined survivorship, speaker and Pink Zone supporter Tammy Miller said from the center of the court. Survivors were clad in pink of every hue, each carrying a sign indicating how long they’ve lived since their diagnosis.

The game also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Pink Zone game, as supporters joined survivors with a sign proclaiming “10 years strong!”

Miller, a 14-year survivor herself, said that survival comes down to FUN — friends and family, unity and never give up.

You can’t change what happens to you but you have total control over that attitude.

14-year survivor Tammy Miller

“You can’t change what happens to you,” she said, “but you have total control over that attitude.”

Miller introduced Bellefonte resident Kari Wallace, who related the losses she’s suffered in her family due to cancers and thanked her husband for his support over the years.

A survivor of five months, Wallace said cancer comes as a tidal wave that doesn’t care who it takes down.

“When I think about our journey with cancer, I realize it does not discriminate with race or with religion,” she said. “The one thing I can say when I look around here — it makes us stronger.”

Marjorie Miller spoke next, saying she was diagnosed at age 26 while planning her wedding. She said as a young woman, it was difficult to find others to relate to and thanked Pink Zone for being with her every step of the way.

“Today I stand with you in my fifth year as a survivor,” she said. “Being with hundreds of other survivors is empowering.

I never want any woman to hear, ‘she’s too young for breast cancer.’

Five-year survivor Marjorie Miller

“I never want any woman to hear, ‘she’s too young for breast cancer,’ ” she said. “By sharing my story, I hope to change the conversation.”

Pink Zone Executive Director Miriam Powell said the growth of the event marks a sense of doing something right. A record-breaking number of survivor years is a “shot in the arm” that Pink Zone is headed in the right direction.

“In my opinion, if every year we have more survivors here, that means more people are beating breast cancer,” Powell said, “and that’s what we’re all about.”

The growth also means more exposure in the community, she said, as local sponsors and supporters are reaching out. Pink Zone was recently contacted by Audi State College, which donated more than $2,000 raised during an October fundraiser.

“We’re finding more and more businesses in and around State College and Centre County who want to support us, seeing the great work we’re doing because of the number of women on that floor every year,” she said.

Powell was honored during the game for her work with Pink Zone. Sunday’s game marked her last as she will be stepping down as executive director to take a position as director of community relations for Lady Lions basketball.

“I’m excited about the change,” she said. “I think change is good. I think it’s good to bring in somebody new with new ideas.”

Assistant athletic director Jennifer James said coordinating the Pink Zone game is a year-round affair. Thanks to a strong partnership with the Bryce Jordan staff, the event now goes off smoothly each year.

James also remarked on the growth of the event, which started with only 31 survivors in its first year. Survivors stood to form a ribbon on the court floor and had to be joined by friends and family to fill in the gaps.

Quite a difference between then and the packed floor spectators saw Sunday, she said.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s amazing that we’ve had that many women who have survived it and are celebrating.”

The survivors are powerful, strong women, she said, and noted the amazing outpouring of support by the community.

“They’re looking to each other and standing next to fellow survivors,” she said. “No matter how long they’ve survived, they’re there to provide inspiration and support.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews