Sea of blue turns out for Prostate Cancer Walk in Towson

A crowd gathers before the start of the ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium Sunday.
A crowd gathers before the start of the ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium Sunday. (Steve Ruark for The Sun)

A sea of blue — the color designated to promote prostate cancer awareness — bobbed up and down around the Towson University campus Sunday morning as more than 2,000 people participated in the eighth-annual ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk.

One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 33,000 men will die this year of the disease, according to Patricia Schnably, event organizer and vice president of marketing and communications at Chesapeake Urology.


"Like a lot of cancers, if you don't catch it early, it spreads through the body and eventually will kill you," Schnably said. "It's curable if caught early."

The walk and run was founded eight years ago when a Chesapeake Urology doctor suggested running event to raise awareness about prostate cancer. The event has grown with more than 2,000 participants signed up this year and more than 100 teams participating. There are now 36 other ZERO Prostate Cancer events in cities across the United States.

Money raised at the Baltimore event goes toward a local program that provides free prostate screenings, and is also used to fund prostate cancer research.

Awareness is key, Schnably said. She said the event aims to educate people and get them talking about prostate cancer. The message isn't just for men, she said; it's also geared toward those who love them.

"Men are not quite as likely to take care of their health as women are," Schnably said. "So we're trying to raise awareness among men, and their wives, to take good care of their health — which includes a prostate screening early, because prostate cancer is curable if found early."

Schnably believes the walk and run, which included a 10k and a 5k run and a one-mile walk, has been successful in increasing the awareness of prostate cancer and the need for screenings. However, she said, there is still work to be done to bring it to the same level as events such as the Komen Race for the Cure, which promotes awareness of breast cancer.

"Komen is huge, it's global and there is a high level of awareness about breast cancer because of it," Schnably said. "Prostate cancer affects a lot of men every year so we are trying to create that level of awareness through this event."

Kathleen Paradiso of Pikesville has walked in the Baltimore area ZERO Prostate Cancer event for the past four years. She said that if she and her husband had been more informed about the need for prostate screenings, her husband might still be alive.

Gerry Paradiso was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer at the age of 45. The doctors told him there was nothing they could do to defeat the cancer, but they would work to extend his life. The father of two fought to live, enduring numerous surgeries, treatments and setbacks. He died four years ago at the age of 47.

"My husband and I thought prostate cancer was something you get when you're 75 or 80," Kathleen Paradiso said. "But that's not the case. With young men it's aggressive and vicious and young men are seeing it more and more."

Each of the 30 Team Gerry Paradiso members walking in the ZERO Prostate Cancer event donned a shirt bearing Gerry's name. The team has consistently ranked as one of the highest fundraisers in the past few years. Paradiso said being the top team isn't really important because she knows all the money is going to the same place. Still, she said it brings a smile to her face.

"When someone dies there's nothing you can do to fix it, but it's human nature to want to do something," she said. "Each year the walk has grown, and that means more people are becoming aware of this as a disease. It's important for me to get out there with my T-shirt with my husband's name on the back and raise money, raise awareness."

As of race day, the event had raised about $380,000 toward its $400,000 goal. Schnably said the eight Baltimore-based ZERO Prostate Cancer events have raised more than $2 million.

"[Gerry] did an awful lot in a short life and showed my kids that they can do anything they want to," Paradiso said of her husband. "He was a cool guy with a lot more to give. Now we share his experience and hope people understand that early detection is so necessary, it makes the difference between living and dying."