Penn State

Pink Zone impact felt in Centre County, throughout state

Cancer survivors sing as Kathy Sledge performs during the 2015 Penn State’s Pink Zone game.
Cancer survivors sing as Kathy Sledge performs during the 2015 Penn State’s Pink Zone game. CDT photo


It’s the color of cotton candy and lip gloss and prom gowns and just the right shoes to match that dress.

It’s also the color of a never-give-up fight against a disease no one wants to see win.

On Sunday, the Penn State Lady Lions basketball team will put its basic white home uniforms aside for bold bright alternatives for the Play4Kay game benefiting Pink Zone, facing off against Michigan in the annual battle that raises money and attention.

Pink Zone is more than just a game.

“... Monies raised through Pink Zone support organizations that focus on breast cancer education, research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” said Angelique Cygan, a registered nurse and breast health navigator at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

The event, which pairs fundraising with high-profile awareness and a way to honor the people who have beaten the disease or been lost to it, is in its 11th year.

“It was a brainchild that started with a $5,000 check from the Big Ten Conference,” said Penn State assistant athletic director Jennifer James.

The mission was to create excitement. Penn State decided to do more.

“We’re passionate about it and have been leaders in the cause,” James said.

“We were the first to do pink jerseys,” said Penn State marketing manager Kathy Drysdale.

Pink Zone has collected more than $1.5 million since 2006. The money has gone to Mount Nittany Health, the Penn State Cancer Institute, PA Breast Cancer Coalition, Kay Yow Cancer Fund, J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital. Mount Nittany Health is the lead beneficiary for the eighth consecutive year.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our grassroots partners like Pink Zone,” said Natalie Kopp, communications director for the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. “It’s not just the Pink Zone (game). It’s all the things they do all year.”

There are other events. Other people raise money. In downtown State College, popular spots like The Corner Room, the Allen Street Grill, Bill Pickle’s Tap Room and the Student Book Store are giving patrons a chance to put their own stamp on the cause with walls of Pink Zone support for a donation.

“We’ve raised a lot of money, almost $2,000,” said The Corner Room general manager John Briggs. “It’s filling up the whole front part of the restaurant. We’ve done it for two years now.”

Last year, Pink Zone gave out $220,000 to its beneficiaries. Mount Nittany alone received $87,500.

The money the groups receive goes to practical projects that touch lives.

“In 2012, Pink Zone monies funded the purchase of a breast specimen imager, a device dedicated to breast tissue imaging, located in the medical center’s operating rooms. This technology enables radiologists to read breast cancer images instantaneously, while the patient and surgeon are in the operating room, achieving the most precise cancer margins. This is especially important in lumpectomy procedures,” said Cygan.

The PBCC takes its van, funded by Pink Zone, to awareness events.

“We reach the whole state, from Philly to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between,” said Kopp. “This makes a difference.”

It makes a difference for the team, too.

“It’s a unique experience for the girls to play in front of 23-year or 45-year survivors,” said Drysdale.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in the country, with more than 130 people out of every 100,000 stricken. Deaths are slightly better, in the second tier, with 21.6 per 100,000.

“The student-athletes have had direct connections — mothers, grandmothers,” said James. “It’s amazing. It’s sad how many have been touched. We’ve had friends we’ve met through Pink Zone. We have friends we’ve lost.”

For some, Cygan is their connection to Pink Zone.

“When something is stopping a patient from getting the treatment and/or information she needs, it’s my job to find a way around that barrier,” she said. “Our partnership with Pink Zone offers us a rewarding position to collaborate with the medical team and the community as we connect the patient with available resources.”

As a breast health navigator, she charts a course from the diagnosis to the treatment, and that’s something Pink Zone has made possible.

“When I introduce myself to patients and tell them all the things I’m going to do, they’re probably thinking, ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ And I get to say there’s no charge for my service,” she said.

“The Pink Zone has been not only a great source of funds to help fight breast cancer, but also a phenomenal event to raise overall awareness of a disease that touches so many lives,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “The community has really shown a deep commitment to the cause and this event has only gotten bigger every year, and with it the impact on cancer.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce