A friendship cemented over mothers' cancer struggles

Frank Neukam and Justin Pfeffer's friendship began the summer before high school. But their 10-year bond was cemented later - over their mothers' battles with breast cancer.

Pfeffer's mother was diagnosed when he was 20; two years later, in 2008, Neukam lost his mother after her 15-year fight. That prompted Neukam and Pfeffer to start Brothers for Each Other's Mothers, a group that has raised more than $20,000 and has participated in the two most recent Susan G. Komen Maryland races.

Now, many former classmates from Archbishop Curley make up the race group, and all have known someone who has endured the disease.

"She would be very, very proud," Neukam, 24, of Bel Air said of his mother, Sharon, who died at age 49. Each year she would walk in the local race, which raises tens of thousands of dollars for national breast cancer research and local programs for women and their families.

During her last race in 2008, Neukam said, his father pushed her in a wheelchair because "she couldn't walk 10 steps." She was diagnosed with breast cancer when Neukam was 7 years old.

Neukam and Pfeffer met before attending Curley in Northeast Baltimore, where they played soccer. But Pfeffer said he didn't know until after they graduated that Neukam's mother had breast cancer.

"After high school, our friendship really grew, and we came together" when the condition of Neukam's mother worsened, said Pfeffer, 23, of Parkville.

Pfeffer said his mother, Darlene, 57, is in her third year of remission and participated in her second Komen race last week. Pfeffer said "she appreciates what we do" - and that the team is there, too.

Breast cancer has "touched everybody in our group somehow," Neukam said. Brothers for Each Other's Mothers "is something my mom would've enjoyed," he added.

This year the group has about 20 members and continues to grow. Members have already raised $12,000 this year with help from a bull roast in September, Neukam said.

Last year - their first year - they aimed to raise $5,000 and brought in $11,445, placing them 21st among fundraisers in the Komen event.

In crowd photos from the 2009 race they can be seen carrying large banner with touches of pink. Both said there's a lot of pink at the race, and neither is shy to sport the color.

"I'd wear any color - a rainbow suit," Pfeffer said, to help others avoid "what we went through."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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