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Pink Ribbon Cheer Classic celebrates 16th year, cancer survivors Raising funds, spirits

Monday, October 24, 2016

By Sean Barron


At first glance, it may seem like a misplaced contradiction that Lauryn Marstellar and Racquel Schertzer chose to cheer and dance for breast cancer – until you look under the surface.

“I like seeing all the people coming to support [those with] breast cancer and how many care,” said Schertzer, an Austintown Fitch High School junior and a member of her school’s cheerleading squad.

Schertzer and Marstellar, a Fitch High senior and member of the Niles-based Cheer Dream Team All Stars, were among those who showcased their athletic talents during Sunday’s 16th annual Pink Ribbon Cheer Classic in Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center.

Youngsters age 3 to 18 representing an estimated 90 local and regional schools took part in the eight-hour fundraiser exhibition, hosted by the Youngstown chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, a longtime women’s fraternity. The event was to raise money for cancer research and greater awareness of breast cancer while allowing participants to perform their favorite dance, cheer and halftime routines, as well as to honor those who have survived the disease, noted Kim Caputo-James, event founder and coordinator.

Since its 2001 inception, the Cheer Classic has brought in more than $1 million. This year’s goal was $100,000 said Caputo-James, who added that a portion of funds will go to the Joanie Abdu Breast Care Center in Youngstown.

During their 21/2-minute routine, Marstellar and Schertzer performed a series of coordinated tumbles, stunts, layouts and dances on the 2,268-square-foot foam floor largely to honor a mutual friend’s mother, who is a breast-cancer survivor.

Perhaps the gathering also was a natural fit for Schertzer and Marstellar, because their career goals are to work as a nurse in a neonatal intensive-care unit and as a radiologist, respectively.

Numerous groups, such as the Dream Team All Stars, wowed the audience with their combinations of choreographed front and back flips, rolls and tumbles to music as they remembered someone who battled and survived the disease.

One former cheerleader who seemed moved by the festivities was Jeri Wethli of New Castle, Pa., a YSU senior and nursing major.

Wethli recalled having conducted a self-breast examination when she was 17 and discovering two lumps, which a biopsy revealed were benign but growing. Besides causing the natural concerns, the finding was worrisome because Wethli had friends and family members who also had been diagnosed, she continued.

A self-breast exam in 2010 brought to light the finding of a lump for Melissa Cherne, a Zeta Tau Alpha alum.

“The next day, I made an appointment with my gynecologist,” then underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and several weeks’ worth of radiation treatments, the Boardman woman recalled.

Because she was 33 when diagnosed, Cherne was too young to have insurance cover the cost of a mammogram, she continued.

Nevertheless, the 39-year-old and six-year cancer survivor said the frightening finding and struggles also led to blessings in her life, including those she’s met and befriended as a result.

“I’ve gotten more out of it than it took from me,” Cherne said, referring to the many friends she’s made. “I hope the experience allows me to pay it forward to save another life.”

The Cheer Classic also featured a survivor ceremony “flash mob,” in which most of the teams combined to perform a dance routine while individual cancer survivors walked out and had their names announced to cheers. Beforehand, the girls had watched online and practiced the routine, said Dina Casciano, the event’s public-relations director.

Emotions ran high, during an outdoor balloon launch in which people who had battled the disease – including a 47-year survivor – were honored. Some also remembered a loved one who lost the battle.

As unsettling and scary as the prospects of breast cancer may be, one of the most important things those who receive such a diagnosis can do is realize they are not alone, Wethli explained.

“Stay positive,” she advised. “There’s a lot of people behind these causes and more support than many realize. Nowadays, a lot of people are behind you.”