Support and hope; PTTP gets support through community

Published 7:01 am Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rod and Susan Ryks have shown their support for Paint the Town Pink in the brightest way possible. Their entire home is decked out with lights and the color pink. Eric Johnson/

Rod and Susan Ryks have shown their support for Paint the Town Pink in the brightest way possible. Their entire home is decked out with lights and the color pink. Eric Johnson/

When Rod Ryks and his wife Susan found out she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, they refused to give up.

Now, cancer-free for eight years, the couple is bringing support to others during this year’s fifth annual Paint the Town Pink.

“We felt that her life was given a second chance, which was important because we have six children,” Rod said. “We figured this is, you’ve been given a second chance, we need to make sure others get the second chance you got. We need to do what we can do to help fund research because we need to put an end to breast cancer.”

The Ryks' house stands out on their block thanks to their very visual support of Paint the Town Pink. Eric Johnson/

The Ryks’ house stands out on their block thanks to their very visual support of Paint the Town Pink. Eric Johnson/

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The couple started helping with raffle tickets, auctions, bake sales, and more. When Paint the Town Pink started five years ago, Ryks devised more ways to raise money.

He grew his beard and hair from one polar plunge to the next, and shaved it to raise money for cancer research.

“Everything gets donated to the [Hormel] Institute for research,” he said. “The biggest thing is the importance of funding what they do over there. It’s keeping these doctors and scientists moving forward on research.”

This year, the family plans to attend as many events as they can; the whole family is even doing the polar plunge. Ryks said it’s more than just raising money. It also shows people they are not alone in their battle and there are many people supporting them.

“This Paint the Town Pink just brings the whole community together,” Rod said. “… cancer has touched all our lives be it one way or another.”

“You live one day at a time and you never give up the fight,” he added.

Kathi Finley, director of Austin’s Paint the Town Pink, is excited for the fifth year of breast cancer awareness events.

“It’s exciting I think for a lot of reasons, one being it raises deeply needed research funds for a cancer cure, and it brings the community together,” Finley said. “It’s really neat to see the whole community rally around something, and everybody’s involved with something to do with Paint the Town Pink, so it’s really cool to see.”

Paint the Town Pink started with Paint the Rink Pink, which aimed at one hockey game that raised over $25,000.

“It’s really grown over the past five years,” Finley said.

This year, there will be events from high school sports games of hockey and basketball to speeding across and jumping into East Side Lake. Residents are encouraged to decorate businesses or homes in pink to show support, as well. Other local towns have joined the fun as well, with events in Brownsdale, Adams and Rose Creek, and events that took place previously in Oakland and Lansing.

“We don’t expect things to stay the same, but it grows and other towns now are getting involved and adding on, and that’s good because cancer has no borders and the work that’s done here is for everybody,” Gail Dennison, public relations director for the Institute, said.

She has been impressed by all of the creative ways that support is expressed throughout the many Paint the Town Pink events.

ah.05.25Side1Finley said volunteers hope to raise about $140,000 over the next few weeks to top the $500,000 mark in overall fundraising for five years of work.

Dennison has seen a lot come from the past five years of cancer awareness events.

“There’s two sides of it that have grown — the funds for research and the research progress — out of all of these efforts,” Dennison said.

The money has been delegated among scientists that are researching breast cancer, according to Finley. Much of the money goes toward getting larger grants to continue researching cancer.

Dennison said it’s not just the money that makes the scientists work for the cause. Many scientists and workers have been effected by cancer, as well, and the cause is close to everyone’s hearts.

“The Hormel Institute, we appreciate the support and it is very encouraging to our scientists to see this outpouring of support,” Dennison said.

For more information about Paint the Town Pink, visit The Hormel Institute’s website at or email Kathi Finley at

Examples of some of the PTTP-funded seed grant projects at The Hormel Institute:

—Dr. Shujun Liu, leader of the Cancer Epigenetics and Experimental Therapeutics research section

Dr. Liu’s team is working on a project related to breast cancer therapy by targeting bone modifier ZAS3.

—Dr. Rebecca Morris, leader of the Stem Cells and Cancer research section

Dr. Morris and her team are working on a project called “Bone marrow cells and mammary cancer,” focused on determining whether bone marrow-derived cells play a role in mammary cancer. Her team has made progress in developing the required technology and currently are collecting data and analyzing the results of its first specific aim.

—Dr. Yibin Deng, leader of the Cell Death and Cancer Genetics research section

Dr. Deng’s team has been using PTTP support to generate cutting-edge research methods to understand whether and how genetic changes contribute to tumorigenesis and to identify an effective therapeutic strategy for currently incurable triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs). TNBCs – defined as tumors that lack expression of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2, represent a subtype of breast cancer with the worst prognosis, the highly metastatic phenotype and the lack of effective targeted therapies.

—Drs. Margot Cleary and Da-qing Yang (Dr. Cleary leads the Nutrition and Metabolism research section)

A team led by Drs. Margot Cleary and Da-qing Yang is working on a project focused on determining the effect of metformin, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes on mammary tumor progression. The team also takes into account with the study that obesity worsens breast cancer prognosis. The team also is trying to assess potential mechanisms of actions for metformin and to determine if there are other compounds that might have similar effects.