Loss prompts attorneys to fundraise for breast cancer

Loss prompts attorneys to fundraise for breast cancer
Yelena Chizhik and Howard Coker

Participation in Real Men Wear Pink growing locally, nationally

Yelena Chizhik was an important member of Coker Law until she died of breast cancer.

Chizhik created the trial firms’ trial presentations, focus groups and trial technology. “She was an outdoors woman – hiking, she loved to train dogs, she lived an amazing robust life,” said Charlene Shirk, public relations chair for the local Real Men Wear Pink breast cancer fundraising campaign. 

Battling breast cancer for the second time, Chizhik lost her life earlier this year prompting members of her firm to launch a vigorous fundraising campaign for cancer research.

“In addition to being an important member of our trial team, she was a very warm, very wonderful person, had a great sense of humor,” said Howard Coker, partner. “It does hurt a lot on a personal and professional level. Her loss put Dan and I in a situation where we felt we should do our part and make people aware of the ramifications of breast cancer,” he said referring to his law partner, Dan Iracki.

Coker and Iracki joined this year’s local Real Men Wear Pink fundraiser, which empowers men to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. To that end, they’ll be encouraging staff to swap suits and ties for pink shirts and tutus some days, and “all the things that people do,” said Iracki, including decorating for “save the tatas,” a slogan that goes with the breast cancer campaign.

Coker and Iracki are just two of growing numbers of men joining in the fight against breast cancer. Nationally, Real Men Wear Pink has grown exponentially since it began six years ago, said American Cancer Society Communications Director Joe Culotta. 

Culotta said the event grew from a campaign in Jackson, Tenn., in 2013 to 200 communities and 3,500 participants in 2019. Culotta said campaign participants have raised $9.5 million nationally so far, and local participants say fundraising has grown in Jacksonville as well.

“The trend has definitely been that we raise more money year over year,” said Shirk, the public relations chair. This is the fourth year for the Jacksonville-area campaign, she said, adding that the group has raised $289,000 total since 2016 and seen participation rise from 28 men the first year to 38 in 2019. Last year alone, the local campaign brought in $140,000, said campaign Co-Chair Chris Condon said in a news release.

Each year, organizers start with a list of 60 men as potential fundraisers and then narrow down the list somewhere in the 30s or 40s, Shirk said. “It ends up being a magical mixture, different backgrounds. Some are business managers, some are corporate leaders, some are educators.” All are asked to make a commitment to fundraise or write a check for $2,500 at minimum.

While some men contract breast cancer, it occurs overwhelmingly in women. Still, men are powerfully affected as well, Shirk said.

“When a woman in their life is diagnosed, the men in their life are significantly impacted,” she said, noting the roles of men may change due to appointments and treatments and chemotherapy-associated sickness. “She is going to go through physical changes that her partner is obviously going to go through as well with her,” Shirk said. “The minute a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, then man in her life is impacted.”

Coker and Iracki would agree, noting that Chizhik’s loss impacted their entire firm. That’s why they’re on a mission to help others.

“We want to win,” Iracki said. “We want to continue to raise the bar. We challenge our other brothers and sisters to fight. We are coming after them to win.” 

Those interested in learning more about the campaign or getting help can call 800-277-2345 or visit cancer.org

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