Penn State

Pink Zone game: The full-court press against breast cancer

Debbie Linnes was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2008.

A little more than four years later, after benefiting from early detection, the new chief operating officer of Mount Nittany Health was emceeing a pep rally at the hospital, getting people ready for the Lady Lion basketball team’s Pink Zone game Sunday against Michigan.

Her best advice to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis is that they don’t have to walk the path alone. She said an active support system is one of the best ways to deal with the diagnosis and move forward.

And Sunday more than 13,000 people are expected to attend the Pink Zone game, all showing support and helping to raise funds for cancer awareness and prevention.

Coach Coquese Washington said the game is the players’ favorite every year, and she is expecting the largest crowd of the season.

“It’s another opportunity for us to show our undying support and commitment to the community,” she said. A win would award the Lady Lions a share of the Big Ten title.

Events like the pep rally are even more special for Washington, she said because the day is really about the cancer survivors and interacting with them. Though the game is special for the coaches and players, ultimately they are preparing for it like every other game and don’t get much chance to interact with fans.

Three dollars of every ticket sold will go to the Pink Zone. There will also be a silent auction for Penn State memorabilia and other items and a public post-game auction for the game-worn Pink Zone jerseys.

The Pennsylvania Pink Zone charity effort had three goals this year, and Executive Director Miriam Powell is hopeful they will reach all of them.

She said based on early ticket sales, they will likely best the attendance goal of 13,000 fans, the survivor goal of 550 attendees, and hopefully the fundraising goal of $250,000.

And Sunday’s seventh annual game will be a rush of emotions for Powell.

“It’s almost beyond words to describe the emotions,” she said. “From top to bottom, the whole day is really indescribable.”

The past six Pink Zone games raised more than $565,000 for the charity, which divides the proceeds among Mount Nittany Medical Center, Penn State Hershey Center Institute, Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and Lewistown Hospital.

The allocation to each is based on reports to the board of directors, which determines how great the need is at each facility. Mount Nittany recently dedicated the Lady Lions Resource Room in the Lance and Ellen Shaner Cancer Pavilion as a direct result of Pink Zone funding.

That honor was huge for the coaching staff and the players, Washington said. They will now have something tangible to show that they made a difference that will always be there.

The event has been picking up the last three years, Powell said, with last year generating $203,000 for the charity. As the Lady Lions, ranked No. 7 in the country, continue to improve and build a bigger fan base, the event also is getting bigger.

Washington said the event is even more special coming on the heels of the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which last Sunday announced its $12.37 million fundraising total. She said people can still feel the energy in the Jordan Center from Thon and people dancing and sweating.

“We won’t be dancing, but we’ll certainly be sweating,” she said.

The Pink Zone also focuses on prevention and early detection of cancer, and Aileen Galley, administrative director of the cancer program at Mount Nittany Medical Center, said those are the two most important aspects in raising cancer survivability.

Galley said the main method for cancer prevention in both men and women is living a healthy lifestyle, both eating well and exercising. But sometimes genetic cancer is unavoidable, and that’s where early detection becomes important, she said.

Women are encouraged to do monthly self breast examinations, get full clinical examinations every one to two years and women older than 40 should have regular mammography screenings.

The breast cancer survival rate if the disease is found in the earliest state is 93 percent, according to data by the American Cancer Society. If its not found until the latest stage that rate drops to only 15 percent.

Though the chances are much lower, men can also develop breast cancer and should live healthy lifestyles and self-check for the disease as well.

The growth model for the Pink Zone includes attempting to secure corporate sponsorships and getting more student involvement, Powell said. And she doesn’t see a ceiling for the event anytime soon.

Washington said she is just excited for the game and proud of all the work Penn State and the Pink Zone have done.

“Our Pink Zone event is unquestionably the best in the nation,” she said to the crowd at the pep rally. “It’s not even close.”