Teal ribbons

Alayna Moore (left) and Karagin Furfari, seniors at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, tie a teal ribbon on a pole in Johnstown’s Central Park on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017.

Sierra Widmar and Abigail Instone joined dozens of fellow Bishop McCort High School students Thursday tying teal ribbons to trees and poles throughout the region.

But the two girls had a more personal connection to the school’s annual ovarian cancer awareness campaign: Both lost grandmothers to the silent disease.

“My grandmother died from ovarian cancer when I was 7,” Sierra said at the high school. “I wanted to help people learn about awareness.”

Sandra Lee Widmar, of Dilltown, died in February 2011. Although Sierra does not remember her grandmother talking about the battle with cancer, her memories encouraged her to learn more about the disease. She admits the hereditary aspects of ovarian cancer are in the back of her mind.

Sierra Widmar and Abigail Instone share memories of their grandmothers, who both died from ovarian cancer. The Bishop McCort High School stude…

Abigail remembers other family members being tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes after her grandmother, Doreen M. Instone of Richland Township, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer about four years ago.

“It made a big impact on our lives,” Abigail said, adding that the impact extended to Bishop McCort Catholic High School, where Doreen Instone was well known.

“Everybody really loved her,” Abigail said. “She had a really strong personality. She was always smiling and nice to everyone, and she really loved basketball at McCort.”

This is the fourth year for McCort’s Turn the Towns Teal campaign, developed in partnership with the Laurel Auto Group and the Ann Harris Smith Foundation.

Students placed ribbons along main thoroughfares in in Johnstown and Westmont, along with Central Park and Roxbury Park. Windber, Somerset and Ebensburg boroughs were also turned teal for September’s National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month observance.

Adult volunteers and McCort staff joined student volunteers in the school cafeteria Thursday for street assignments and transportation coordination.

Tina Mirilovich and Marcia Schilli from the advancement office organized the effort.

“We ask the students to volunteer and we always have a great turnout,” Mirilovich said.

Awareness is key, Mirilovich said, because there is no reliable test for early detection of ovarian cancer, and symptoms can be vague.

Every Tuesday in September, students will hear reminders about ovarian cancer during daily announcements. The Teal Tuesdays also encourage students to dress in teal clothing to promote awareness.

“Awareness is the main point because ovarian cancer is very difficult to diagnose until it’s in its later stages,” Schilli said. “The sooner people know, the better.”

Mirilovich said the Teal Tuesday announcements have become a McCort tradition and continue to have an impact.

“I am amazed at what the kids remember from year to year,” Mirilovich said. “It’s actually heartwarming.”

The Laurel Auto Group and Ann Harris Smith Foundation have led local ovarian cancer awareness initiatives and fundraising in memory of Smith, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2000 and died in 2002. The efforts are led by Ann’s husband, Laurel Auto Group President Mike Smith, and her son, Vice President Matt Smith.

The school also plans awareness events during sporting events throughout September, when team members will be sporting teal and fans are encouraged to dress in teal as well.

Other area schools have also joined the awareness campaign, with Berlin-Brothersvalley, Central Cambria, Conemaugh Valley, Forest Hills, Richland, Somerset, Westmont Hilltop and Windber school districts participating in teal events.

Players and coaches from both home and visiting teams at Teal Out Games receive special T-shirts to wear during warm-ups.

“Our students have been involved with spreading the word about ovarian cancer for several years,” McCort Principal and Chief Administrative Officer Tom Fleming said. “Awareness of these symptoms can help save lives.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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