Michael Yanish was 14 when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I remember the news hitting me like a train,” he told Hendricken juniors and seniors gathered in the school’s theater Monday.
Yanish, a class of 2010 graduate, was there to help educate his fellow Hawks on breast cancer and tell them how they could help promote awareness and aid in finding a cure.
Last year, 400 Hendricken students participated in the Gloria Gemma 5K, and this year, Principal Joseph Brennan is hopeful even more of his students will take part in the walk.
Hendricken has put together a team of walkers for the past two years and has raised $30,000 for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation in doing so. This year, proceeds from the Oct. 7 5K will benefit a new program for breast cancer victims and survivors under the age of 40.
“It’s not just your grandmother’s disease,” said Lynn Simon, the Gloria Gemma 5K coordinator at yesterday’s assembly. She told the students about women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer as young as age 22.
Hendricken’s “‘Man Up’ Against Breast Cancer” initiative encourages students to get involved with the Gloria Gemma Foundation.
For Yanish, the Gloria Gemma Foundation didn’t just help his mother; it helped his entire family. Yanish was a sophomore at Hendricken when his parents sat him down to tell him his mother, Christine, had been diagnosed with cancer.
“I was sad and angry,” said Yanish. “I felt alone.”
Not wanting to burden his parents with additional stress, and not willing to receive pity from his friends, Yanish felt like he had no one to turn to. So Yanish decided to educate himself on the disease, and found out exactly what his mother was going through.
Yanish said a Google search of the disease not only informed him about cancer and its treatments, but also showed him how common breast cancer is – one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
But the real turning point for Yanish’s family, he said, was finding the Gloria Gemma Foundation.
“They helped my whole family,” he said. “I’m grateful every day my family and I found Gloria Gemma.”
The Gemma family established the Gloria Gemma Foundation after their mother, Gloria, lost her battle with breast cancer in 2004. On Columbus Day weekend the Foundation will host its signature events, the Flames of Hope Waterfire and the Gloria Gemma 5K.
“Dealing with this illness is something that requires a sense of community,” said Yanish.
When the students at yesterday’s assembly were asked how many of them knew someone who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly all of them raised their hands.
Brennan was careful to point out that some victims, like Yanish’s mother, conquer the disease, but others are not so fortunate.
Simon, the 5K coordinator, said she hopes that doctors find the cure for breast cancer, and that she’ll be out of a job. Until that day, she encouraged the boys, their friends and their families to help raise money for research and education.
Joanne Lurgio, a local singer and songwriter, concluded the assembly with a performance. Lurgio, an active member with the Gloria Gemma Foundation, wrote the theme song for this year’s 5K, which features background vocals by the Hendricken chorus.
“In the light of this love I don’t walk alone,” she sang. “I won’t ever quit.”