Bradley Kellerman, the business manager at Joe Machens Capital City Ford, smiled as he introduced himself to a dozen other men — several of whom were strangers — sitting at a lunch table late Wednesday morning.
"I'm a St. Jude patient. I experienced cancer myself — a brain tumor when I was 7 years old," he told them during the kickoff luncheon for an American Cancer Society event.
In just its fourth year, "Real Men Wear Pink" — in which a number of Mid-Missouri men will wear pink every day during October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to raise money to combat breast cancer — has become as much a competition between participants as it is a fun fundraiser.
Including Kellerman, 22 participants will set out to out-raise some of the state's higher-populated communities — Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield. Those who could gathered for the kick-off luncheon at Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield.
In 2018, 20 Mid-Missouri men raised $50,988 for the nonprofit organization. The Kansas City region (for the second consecutive year) was the top fundraiser at more than $52,600. The St. Louis region raised about $40,000.
Cancer has affected close family or acquaintances for all of the participants.
Kellerman said his family lived in the state of California when his cancer was discovered.
"One day, I had a seizure at home," he said. "My parents took me to the hospital. A couple of hours later, they called my mother in and told her I had cancer."
While he was being treated for cancer, his father lost his job. The family moved to Missouri, where his father — who is 85 now and has battled three varieties of cancer — became director of community colleges. Kellerman began treatment at Boone Hospital and eventually beat the disease.
The funds the men raise this fall will go directly toward breast cancer research, said Ashley Patterson, senior community development manager for the local American Cancer Society region.
Many of last year's participants are returning. They'll be joined by Kellerman; Tyler Beck, GFI Digital; John Moseley, athletic director at Lincoln University; Matt Amick, Missouri Corn Growers; Rick Reynolds; and Shawn Strong, president of State Technical College of Missouri.
One by one, the men described a family member or close friend who suffered through or died of cancer.
It is interesting to see how men have begun to open up about cancer and be able to talk about it, Patterson said.
"You'll realize as you're wearing your pink throughout October — and you get up to about day 28 — that you're sick of wearing pink. But a lady who works in your office will come to you and say, 'Hey, I want you to know that I appreciate that. You never knew this, but I had breast cancer, and this means a lot to me,'" Patterson said. "People will start to come out of the woodwork once they see what you're doing."
Patterson gave them each packets with ideas for fundraisers and information they could share with cancer patients and survivors and for people who are curious about what the American Cancer Society does.
"You'll realize that people in your life that you never really knew were affected by cancer," Patterson said.
The funds are great, she said, but possibly not as important as the awareness and support for the cancer survivors in the community.
The top individual fundraiser in the state for the second year in a row was Chip Jones, of Emery Sapp & Sons, who raised $16,661.
Other notable Mid-Missouri fundraisers last year were Rod Smith, KRCG television personality, $6,055; Logan Gratz, Gratz Real Estate & Auctioneering, $5,529; Kevin Dunn, Jefferson City Country Club, $3,961; Chris Carwile, Southside Barbershop, $1,515; Johnny Graham, Revel Catering and Events, $1,107; and Tyler Brown, Jefferson Bank, $1,017.
Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself, Chris Scott advised his colleagues. For example, in October last year, he ran a 5K in a 7-foot inflatable — pink — dinosaur costume. Everybody else in the race was chilly, but he was sweating in the latex suit.
"I lost my mother in 2001," he told the other men. "She died of pancreatic cancer. I do it for Mom."