Other than seeing MLB players wear pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Summerfield’s Jeff Young never gave much thought to breast cancer or the American Cancer Society.
That all changed in August 2021 when Young’s wife, Betsy, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is considered an aggressive cancer that spreads quickly and is more likely to come back after treatment.
"When it became real, we talked to the kids about it, got the family together and worked out a plan," Young said.
Young will join 32 other men from Sarasota and Manatee counties to strut down the runway during the Real Men Wear Pink Fashion Show Sept. 24 at the Mall at University Town Center.
“It’s going to be hilarious,” Betsy Young said about the thought of seeing her husband on the runway.
Jeff Young heard of the fashion show by running into River Club’s Sammy Lynch and his wife, Bethany, who is an American Cancer Society senior development manager, the day after last year’s fashion show.
Bethany Lynch convinced Jeff Young to participate.
“Everybody says it’s a lot of fun,” Young said. “It’s not a serious event, which you think it would be because it’s cancer related, but it’s a chance for everybody to have fun. It’s cool you can take a negative thing and turn it into a positive thing.”
Normally, Young said he prefers to wear a T-shirt and cargo pants, but he’s excited to wear fancy clothes for the fashion show.
He hasn’t decided what pose he will strike at the end of the runway.
“I kind of want to see what everybody else does first,” he said. “It’d be cool to go last because you don’t want to do something that somebody else has already done. I’m just going to wing it and go with the vibe.”
When Lakewood Ranch’s Scott Kessler walked the runway last year, he threw his hands up in the air and yelled, “Hey, my people are here,” before reaching the end of the runway, where he handed a rose to his wife Cheri and kissed her.
“It was kind of corny but spur of the moment,” he said. “They all are my people. They were all there for one cause and that was to raise money for breast cancer.”
Kessler thought the fashion show would be embarrassing but he ended up having fun.
“It was pretty nice wearing an $800 jacket, but I had to return it,” Kessler said with a laugh. “It was all of about two minutes of stress and just hoping you don’t fall off the stage.”
This year, Kessler will sport clothes from Adrenaline Harley Davidson, where he works.
“It’s a lot more fashionable than you think,” he said. “It’s not going to be chaps and leather jackets. Harley Davidson has really become modern with their clothes. They’re very fashion forward now.”
Kessler started getting involved in Real Men Wear Pink to support the American Cancer Society and Cheri, who was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.
Kessler said the diagnosis was a shock.
“Your mind always wanders to the worst, but thankfully her prognosis was good,” Kessler said of his wife, who has been in remission for a year.
For Lakewood Ranch’s Ted Baran, participating in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer has become a tradition for his family since they moved to the area in 2007. Baran’s family wanted to support the American Cancer Society because his mother, Kathleen Foley Baran, fought breast cancer for 14 years before she died in 2007. Other family members and friends also were diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We started doing the walk just so my kids could have some sort of a memory of doing something for my mom,” Baran said. “We called it Grammy’s Walk and we did that for a bunch of years and raised a bunch of money.”
When Lynch suggested Baran participate in Real Men Wear Pink in 2021, he was eager to help.
Baran said was nerve wracking at first, but after spending time with the other ambassadors there was a “positive energy around trying to do as much as we can to push for the cure and push for treatments.”
Real Men Wear Pink ambassadors were given the goal of raising at least $2,000 last year. Kessler, Baran and Parrish’s Luke McFarland went beyond the goal, with each of them raising more than $12,000.
Kessler said he never had a Facebook page until he created one to reach more people to raise money for the cause.
McFarland, who works in East County, became a Real Men Wear Pink ambassador in 2021 to support his colleague at the time, Emily Rhoads, who is a cancer survivor. He said knowing someone who was impacted by breast cancer was an eye opening experience because Rhoads was only 25 when she was diagnosed.
“It’s amazing to see the supportive community,” he said. “You don’t realize how much support there is until you actually participate in it.”
McFarland hosted a golf tournament to raise money that had more golfers and volunteers than he anticipated.
Now the ambassadors are upping the ante, coming up with more events to raise money including McFarland’s golf tournament and Kessler’s whiskey tasting, and motorcycle event.
“I think I’ve overextended myself this year with three events, but if I can pull them off, it should bring in a lot of money for the charity,” Kessler said. “It’s a camaraderie with the guys. I go to some of their events. They come to some of my events.”
This year’s goal among all the ambassadors is $125,000.
Kessler and Jeff Young said they’ve not only had to compete against the other Real Men Wear Pink ambassadors but also their wives, who both had Making Strides Against Breast Cancer teams raising money.
“We were having a little family challenge as it were, which was fun,” Kessler said.
Jeff Young said being with the other Real Mean Wear Pink ambassadors has given him his own support group of people who know what it’s like to know someone who has or had breast cancer.
“A lot of times, understandably so, the non-cancer spouse usually gets set aside, so it’s nice to have a support network for them as well,” Jeff Young said. “Everybody says we’re here for you and we understand what you’re going through, which it’s nice of them to say that, but they don’t unless you’ve actually gone through it.”