“Cousins for a Cause’ began as ‘Marching for Marianne’

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William K. Alcorn



Panerathon, sponsored by Covelli Enterprises and Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley, raises money for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Hospital Youngstown. The kids run is sponsored by PNC Bank.

The event has raised more than $2 million since 2010 for the breast-care center, and 100 percent of race proceeds benefit the cause. For information on the Panerathon or to register, visit Panerathon.org

“Cousins for a Cause” began life in 2015 as “Marching with Marianne,” the year after Marianne Burman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She discovered a small lump via self-examination after the lump went undetected through mammography.

After watching Burman endure numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, her cousin, Mary Argiro, started a Panerathon team in Burman’s honor the next year and recruited members of the large, close-knit Italian family to join the team and show support by walking with Marianne.

“One of the hardest parts was the overwhelming feeling of isolation. But I was lucky. I never got sick with the chemo,” Burman said.

She had to avoid large groups of people during her treatment because her immune system was compromised and she was susceptible to infections.

As a consequence, the grandmother of three was unable to see her grandchildren during the weeks of treatments.

“That was the most heartbreaking part of it all. During that time, any phone call or card I received from a family member or friend meant so much. It helped ease the feeling of separation. I even learned to text on my cell phone because it took less energy than talking, and it was more private,” she said with a laugh.

That feeling of isolation disappeared when she was joined by nearly 40 members of her extended family at the 2015 Panerathon.

“Their support meant so much to me. That’s why it’s so important to me now to show my support for others,” she said.

Burman said that’s why she, Mary and the rest of their cousins continue to put together a team every year, even though Burman has been cancer-free since that first year.

Their team, now called “Cousins for a Cause,” has grown to more than 60 participants over the last four years.

Unfortunately, cancer touches the lives of nearly everyone somehow, and since formation of “Cousins for a Cause,” several other family members have been diagnosed with cancer.

Burman’s sister, Susan McCallister, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and Argiro, described as the engine behind “Cousins for a Cause,” was diagnosed in 2018 and had part of her kidney and an adrenal gland removed in June. Betty Thorne, another of Burman’s sisters, is also a cancer survivor.

The encouraging news is that as of this year’s Panerathon, Marianne, Susan and Mary are all cancer-free.

The Ginnetti clan makes it a priority to have regular get-togethers such as Ginnetti Girl’s Night Out, annual Christmas parties and frequent family reunions.

And every year in late August members of the clan gather in downtown Youngstown at the Covelli Centre to support one another and others touched by cancer by joining in with hundreds of teams and individuals to walk, jog or run the course of the Panerathon for one common cause.

The Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital has served nearly 70,000 women since it opened in 2011.

To date, the Panerathon has raised more than $2 million for the center.

“There’s strength in numbers,” said Argiro.

“At first, I participated in the Panerathon to support Marianne. But, once you’re there, it’s a whole new world. The feeling comes over you that you aren’t just supporting the person you came there to walk for, but you’re supporting everyone else, too,” she said.

Burman agreed: “There’s nothing like seeing the mass of people all wearing the same shirt all lined up on race day. It takes your breath away.”

The cousins say having cancer has changed their perspective on life.

“I don’t ponder the stupid things anymore and I don’t worry about the cancer coming back. I just pray to God,” said Burman.

“We no longer put off doing things we think might be fun. We just make them happen,” said Argiro.

For example, 13 Ginnetti cousins crossed off an item on their bucket lists by taking a 10-day trip to Sulmona, Italy, in 2017 and visited the house where Burman’s mother, herself a breast-cancer survivor, was born.

“We were back where it all started,” she said.

The Ginnetti cousins say they will never forget their trip to Italy and getting to spend time with more than 30 family members they had never met before.

“None of them spoke English, and none of us spoke Italian. We had only a 15-year-old girl translating for us,” Burman recalled.

The cousins hope to continue to grow their Panerathon team, and are looking forward to seeing the faces of those they love gathered together at this year’s Panerathon to show support for one another and for everyone else who may need it.

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