T-shirt campaign helps women fighting cancerWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a quaint Sylvania café, Bethany Gurzynski scrolls through an online catalogue of customized apparel she’s created with nothing more than her artistic talent and a little bit of free time.
Hoodies, T-shirts, V-necks — all bearing unique designs celebrating everything from Toledo’s historic Jeep plant to the University of Michigan’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh.
However, there is one design — albeit a rather simple one — that stands out among the rest.
A black T-shirt featuring a pink ribbon logo and bold lettering that reads: “I Can. I Will. End Of Story.”
“This is for Tiffany and Melinda,” she says, smiling.
Gurzynski, an art teacher at McCord Junior High School, recently began selling the shirts online to support two Sylvania women currently in the fight of their lives.
Tiffany Townsend and Melinda Restivo both had their lives drastically altered when they received a diagnosis of two very different forms of breast cancer.
To ease the financial burden on these two women, Gurzynski created the inspirational outerwear and jumpstarted a fundraising campaign Feb. 2 on Teespring.com.
Marketing the apparel under the umbrella of her new company, Toledo Threads, she has already sold 462 shirts with 100 percent of the proceeds to be split between Townsend and Restivo.
“There are a lot of things I couldn’t do to help them,” said Gurzynski, who currently teaches Townsend’s and Restivo’s children in her art class. “I couldn’t give them $5,000, but I could do a design — one that would cost me virtually nothing — that raises $5,000.”
Prices for the “I Can. I Will. End Of Story.” line range from $20 for a standard or women’s fit T-shirt to $35 for a hoodie. Gurzynski is also offering long-sleeve shirts, V-necks and a tie-dye version.
“I don’t know where I’ll be in five years,” Gurzynski said. “I don’t know if [cancer] is going to affect me, my mom or my sister. So why wouldn’t I pay it forward?”
Gurzynski said the design for the shirt, as well as the slogan, are well-known symbols of strength and inspiration for those battling tough times in life.
A big part of the campaign’s success is due to the local push it has received. Friends, relatives, strangers and even Gurzynski’s fellow teachers at McCord Junior High have all purchased shirts to support the two mothers.
“Their daughters will see the teachers wearing the shirts and they’ll feel that support at school,” Gurzynski said.
Townsend, an educator at Perrysburg Junior High School, said her students and even her own co-workers have also purchased the shirts.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Townsend said. “I think people just want to help in any way they can. This is an easy way they can show love and support, and it’s a cool shirt on top of it.”
Both Townsend and Restivo said the money they receive from the campaign will help their families survive this tough time by offsetting the cost of living expenses and medical bills.
“I wasn’t prepared for this in any way,” Restivo said. “The financial burden it puts on a family is hard. One day you think you’re just chugging along and then, ‘Wham!’”
Having only met Gurzynski a few times prior to her start of this fundraising effort, Restivo said she was surprised at the effort.
“She was this guardian angel that came to me,” Restivo added. “She’ll never know how grateful I am and how much this will help me and my family. Words will never be able to express how grateful I am.”
Restivo lost her father to lung cancer in April and was still in the process of grieving when she discovered a lump on her right breast in October.
“At that time, I let a lot of things for my own health go by the wayside,” Restivo said. “I knew I needed a mammogram done. A week after I scheduled my mammogram, my husband hugged me and, when he hugged me, something popped in my right breast.”
Following a series of doctor and hospital visits, Restivo visited the ProMedica Toledo Hospital Breast Care Center on Nov. 3 and received the proper testing to diagnose the mass on her breast.
She was not prepared when she got the call two days later.
“It’s a day you never forget,” Restivo said. “I had lost my dad and six months later, here I am being diagnosed with cancer. You never know how it feels until it’s told to you. It affected me when my dad had it, but it changed me when I was told I have it.”
On Nov. 5, she was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma — a rare subset of cancer that lacks the presence of estrogen and progesterone receptors, and generally responds well to chemotherapy.
Her tumor, relatively large by the time it was discovered, had evaded early detection by hiding behind dense breast tissue.
“It was already further along than I wanted it to be,” Restivo said. “I was shocked. I was shocked at the stage of it. I was shocked by the diagnosis of it.”
Now surrounded by what she calls a “wonderful group” of doctors, oncologists and radiologists, Restivo has been undergoing an aggressive chemotherapy regimen since November.
Restivo said she’ll finish with chemotherapy April 17 and prepare for surgery not long after.
“It’s been a journey. It still will be for another year or so,” Restivo said. “Every woman’s path is different. After surgery I’ll go through radiation; and, after that, there could be talks of reconstruction. My goal is to have a double mastectomy by the time it’s all said and done.”
Townsend’s journey began more than a month ago when her ob-gyn discovered a lump on one of her breasts during an annual checkup.
Her doctor, whom she has gone to since she was 18 years old, tearfully delivered the news in late January.
The diagnosis: ER/PR positive breast cancer — a hormone-receptor form of the disease that grows in response to estrogen and progesterone.
“It’s been a total whirlwind,” Townsend said. “It’s been crazy. There really isn’t a better word to describe it.”
Townsend underwent surgery Feb. 19 and reported Feb. 25 that her lymph nodes are negative for cancer and the margins around her small tumor were all clear.
Within the next few weeks, Townsend said, she plans to begin one year of chemotherapy, followed by a daily regimen of hormone therapy pills for the next five to 10 years.
“It’s great to have some good news coming out of such a bad diagnosis,” she said.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. In 2015, it is estimated there will be 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women in the United States — causing 40,290 deaths, according to Susan G. Komen.
To purchase the “I Can. I Will. End of Story.” shirt, visit teespring.com/stores/toledo-threads. For more information, visit the Toledo Threads Facebook page at Facebook.com/ToledoThreads or email Gurzynski at ToledoThreads@gmail.com. O