Warriors gather for tea

Luncheon brings together breast cancer survivors, their supporters

CANFIELD — “I know how brave you are.”

That was the message Rita Busin shared with hundreds of women and men Monday at the 29th annual Pink Ribbon Tea and luncheon at Waypoint 4180.

The event, sponsored by The Junior League of the Mahoning Valley, was founded to provide hope, support and inspiration for breast cancer survivors.

Busin, a two-time cancer survivor, welcomed the group, saying, “I get chills when I look out and see how many of you there are.”

In 2001, Busin of Poland, was diagnosed with leukemia. The breast cancer diagnosis came nearly five years ago.

“It moves me greatly that there are so many survivors in this area,” she said. “We’re all honored as survivors.”

The event included raffles, speakers, vendors and live music by Ed Madej, a classically trained musician with One Cello. Gail Nevel Stringer of Warren, entertained the group with uplifting songs. The Youngstown native, who started singing as a child in her father’s church choir and formed the Nevel Sisters with her siblings, received a standing ovation for her performance.

The event was free to attend for survivors and supported by underwriters, sponsors and league members. Rabbi Courtney Berman, inaugural rabbi for Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom of Youngstown, prayed with the group. She said she was humbled to be in the presence of so many survivors, noting that her great-grandfather suffered with breast cancer.

“I think that prayers do so many things for us,” she told the group. “Prayer helps us to support one another.”

League President Yvonne Reese called the luncheon “one of our biggest and most heartfelt events.”

Amy Banks of Poland, is the Pink Ribbon Tea chairwoman. She said approximately 400 people attended, both survivors and guests, from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

She said her favorite part of the event was when participants were asked to stand, based on the number of years they’ve survived cancer.

Her mother, Barbara Banks, also of Poland, was diagnosed in 1999. Amy Banks hasn’t received a breast cancer diagnosis, but said every female relative on her mom’s side has.

She said her mom is lucky to be alive and attributes her outcome to early detection. She had a mastectomy but was able to avoid radiation and chemotherapy, Amy Banks said, adding “and here she is be-bopping along at 81.”

Debra McIntosh of Campbell, and Lesley Boffman-Womack of Liberty, hugged when they saw each other. The two call themselves “chemo partners,” referring to the time they spent together in treatment following diagnoses in 2017.

“We’re just happy to be together,” McIntosh said.

Emcee for the event was Gina Marinelli, a former local reporter and anchor who is senior gift officer for the Mercy Health Foundation. She helped raise $6 million for the creation of the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

She said the center was founded by Dr. Rashid Abdu to honor the memory of his wife, Joanie, who died in 1994 from breast cancer.

Guest speaker was Dr. Michael Scolieri, who said he’s the only urologist for women between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He has offices in Canfield and Salem and said he wanted to talk to the group to let them know their journey is just as much about thriving as it is surviving.

Scolieri talked about post-treatment problems many survivors experience but hesitate to talk about, including intimacy and incontinence. “It’s a great opportunity to talk to them about things when they’re looking for help but really not getting it,” he added.

Susan Berny, Pink Ribbon Tea founder and league member, said her daughter was diagnosed at age 26 and has been cancer free for 12 years.

“I think God prepared me for her diagnosis,” she said.

The LPGA partnered with the league for many years to celebrate survivors and educate women in this area, she said.

“I saw there was a high incidence of breast cancer here and a high incidence of need,” she said.

Barbara West of Cortland, started dyeing her hair pink in 2017, following a breast cancer diagnosis that she said was life changing, in good ways and bad.

It was her first time attending the event, and she called it “an honor” to be in the same room as so many warriors.

“Support is the key to your recovery,” she said. “It’s the key to your sanity.”

Since her diagnosis, West took up painting, wrote a book and is learning American Sign Language.

“There is life after cancer,” she said. “You have to open yourself up and live.”


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