The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Philadelphia affiliate credits volunteer Sally Rotenberg with changing the face of breast cancer with the love of a sister, the dedication of a fighter and the soul of a survivor.
On Friday night, the charity honored the Somerton resident with its Victor Dunoff Volunteer of the Year award during a kickoff celebration for the upcoming 23rd annual Race for the Cure.
Rotenberg, a 66-year-old retired teacher, addressed charity supporters who gathered at the Cescaphe Ballroom, at 923 N. 2nd St. in Northern Liberties.
“I hope to see our Komen mission, of ‘A World Without Breast Cancer,’ become a reality in the near future,” she said.
More than 300 people — sponsors, health-care providers, activists and survivors — attended the affair.
Komen is gearing up for its race on Mother’s Day, which takes place near Eakins Oval, near 24th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This year’s event is set for Sunday, May 12. Sponsors include Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Aria Health and Dietz & Watson Inc.
The evening included dinner, singing, dancing, awards and grant presentations.
Rotenberg treasured the award, named in honor of the Dunoff family, early supporters of the charity.
“They were the very first people involved in getting Komen Philadelphia off the ground. They are very dedicated to the cause,” she said. “I am very honored that I was selected to represent all the volunteers. We’re saving lives.”
East Torresdale’s Bob and Diane Miller were among the volunteers in attendance. The Millers have been volunteering since Diane finished her treatments for breast cancer in January 2000.
The couple became so involved that they chaired the Race for the Cure during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 campaigns.
Today, the retirees — he was a pharmacy manager, she a teacher — spread the word at schools, health fairs and businesses. They staff information tables, perform office work and take part in the Call for the Cure telethon on CBS 3. They recommend self-exams and mammograms.
“We’re big advocates for early detection,” Diane said.
Bob wears a pink and white ribbon, the symbol of a “co-survivor.” Friends and family members are active in the cause, including their grandson Evan, a 6-year-old Franklin Towne Charter School first-grader.
One of the highlights of the Race for the Cure is the Survivor Parade of Pink, when Diane and other cancer survivors are invited to walk down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I hope one day all the survivors walk down the steps and say, ‘It’s over. Thank God,’ ” and we all clap,” she said.
For a decade, Rotenberg supported friends at the Race.
Then, in December 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A mammogram revealed a lump in her right breast. Doctors performed a lumpectomy, and she underwent radiation treatments.
Rotenberg, who used to watch survivors walk down the art museum steps, was stunned at the diagnosis, but thankful for survival.
“I never thought I would walk down those steps,” she said. “I’m very lucky they found the breast cancer, and I’m a survivor.”
Rotenberg raises money through Pretty in Pig, a campaign that allows schools, businesses and others to donate money to Komen by putting change and bills in bright pink plastic piggy banks. She also speaks about breast cancer to raise awareness of the disease.
“It’s a passion of mine,” she said.
Rotenberg, chairwoman of the Pretty in Pig school outreach program, thanked her friends and colleagues in the education field. One of her close allies in the fight is Bettyann Creighton, a Fox Chase resident and director of the School District of Philadelphia’s office of health, safety and physical education.
The honoree also thanked her family, including husband Kenny and her children and grandchildren, for their active support.
“I am very proud of my family’s involvement,” she said.
Rotenberg, whose other volunteer causes include the Ronald McDonald House and Aid For Friends, urged people to be diligent about their health. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women starting at age 40.
“I am a six-year survivor of breast cancer,” Rotenberg said, “and would not be one had I not had a mammogram.” ••