Organizers for the sixth annual Step It Up! Cure Pancreatic Cancer 5K and Family Fun Day held recently announced that the event raised $107,674.

Nearly 1,100 people from across the country attended the event, which was held at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gordon Field House. Nikki Rudd, of News10NBC, and Scott Spezzano, of 98.9 WBZA the Buzz, served as masters of ceremonies.

The event is the Pancreatic Cancer Association of Western New York’s major annual fundraiser, providing financial resources to support local research efforts. Proceeds from this year’s event will help support the development of a Pancreatic Cancer Center of Excellence at Wilmot Cancer Institute. PCAWNY has committed to donating the proceeds from their walk over the next five years to support this initiative, which will provide a comprehensive approach to fighting pancreatic cancer from research to diagnosis to treatment and care.

The afternoon included an indoor 5K around the track, children’s activities and a performance by the University of Rochester’s all-male collegiate a cappella group, the Yellow Jackets. A Jazzercise routine helped warm participants up. There were special guest appearances by the local team mascots: Spikes from the Red Wings, R. Thunder from the Knighthawks, the Amerk’s Moose and Rex from the Rhinos. Disney princess Cinderella and her fairy godmother and Batman also made an appearance. Batman invited the children to be part of his “Purple Crusaders” in the fight against pancreatic cancer and gave them each masks to wear. Purple is the color for pancreatic cancer.

Mark Kokanovich, an 11-year pancreatic cancer survivor served as the event’s honorary chair.

“It was an honor to chair this event,” said Kokanovich. “I’ve been involved with PCAWNY since 2010 and continue to be impressed by what the ladies and gentlemen of this grassroots organization can and have accomplished in six years. They are very passionate and committed to fighting pancreatic cancer. They don’t take no for answer in anything they do.”

Kokanovich, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2004, underwent over a year and a half of treatment ending August 2005. Kokanovich, who spent 22 years in the metalworking machinery industry, has been a member of the Brighton Central School District Board of Education since 2006 and has served as board president since 2009. He recently completed service as an active board member of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center and devotes much of his time to cancer-related causes.

“This disease is horrific in many ways, and it is way underfunded,” said Lorie Perez, executive director for the PCAWNY. “Our event, with the generosity of the community, helps raise awareness and financial resources so very vital to advancing research efforts. In addition to raising the financial resources, it’s about creating hope … giving hope to those diagnosed that someone is doing something and cares.”

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and third in Monroe County. About three out of four people diagnosed annually will lose the battle within one year of diagnosis. The five-year survival rate is only 6-7 percent and has seen little to no change in 40 years as mortality rates for most major cancers have seen improvements. Pancreatic cancer research receives about 2 percent of funding from the National Cancer Institute.

“It is disheartening, having lost my mother to this disease six years ago, to see how research continues to be seriously underfunded,” said Mary Ellen Smith, associate executive director. “This is an aggressive disease, and we need to fight it aggressively by funding research that can help change the statistics — 6 percent surviving beyond five years is just not acceptable.”

Over the course of five years, PCAWNY has donated nearly $315,000 to support research efforts led by Dr. Aram Hezel, vice chief, division of hematology and oncology, director of pancreatic and hepatobiliary cancer program, and Hucky Land Ph.D., director of research and co-director. The organization also donated another $30,000 earlier this year to fund diagnostic equipment used Dr. Vivek Kaul and his team at University of Rochester Medical Center to help detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages.

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