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Why a West Seneca teacher decided to wear pink this month

Joe Cantafio has lots of reasons to wear pink in October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer has impacted extended family members and some of his colleagues in the West Seneca Teachers Association, but he hates cancer, period, and hopes breast cancer research also will translate into progress toward other malignancies that have claimed the lives of his father, several of his in-laws, and the woman who asked him almost a year ago to participate in this month’s Real Men Wear Pink campaign.

“Sonia Basko was a dear friend of mine, a tremendous organizer, unionist and teacher,” said Cantafio, a West Seneca West High School social studies teacher and head of his district’s 550-member teachers’ union. “She was at the forefront of everything we did statewide for communities, including the Making Strides Walk.”

Basko, a former English teacher in suburban Rochester, spent the last few years of her life as special projects coordinator with the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). She led the union’s substantial presence statewide at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K runs and walks, and last year helped launch the related Real Men Wear Pink fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

She died from complications of stomach cancer late last year, at age 43, several weeks after her diagnosis.

"I had one pink tie before this," West Seneca West High School social studies teacher Joe Cantafio says about his decision to participate in Real Men Wear Pink.

The Buffalo Making Strides event starts at 10 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 14, in Canalside. A similar event will take place Oct. 15 in Rochester and Oct. 22 in Jamestown. Register at

Cantafio, 47, of West Seneca, and his wife, Karen, have attended the Making Strides Walk for years. He upped the ante this year by offering to wear pink daily this month to raise money toward the effort. He is nearing his fundraising goal of $15,000. To donate, click here.

Q. You’re one of the top 10 fundraisers in the state?

What I’m proudest of is that if you look at my scroll of donors, there’s hundreds of people. People gave me $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. Sadly, so many people have experience with cancer that they’ve been willing to give a few dollars.

Q. How many new pieces of pink clothing do you have for this month?

I had one pink tie before this. I would wear it for the fundraiser for Making Strides. My wife and I went to Bon-Ton and bought three or four pink shirts and to Men's Warehouse and bought about a half a dozen pink ties. I ordered some pink golf shirts with the Real Men Wear Pink logo from Al Ross sports screening in West Seneca, and when I went to pick ‘em up, they gave me about a half-dozen other shirts of other colors with the pink logo. So I have enough to get me through a couple of wash cycles. Sunday, I was out mowing the lawn in a pink sweatshirt. I went shopping Sunday night and got a T-shirt with a #TeamSonia logo. … Now, I’m outfitted so I’ve got to stay with this cause for many years.

Q. What sort of reaction are you getting from students and fellow teachers?

Monday was the first day I wore pink in school. I wore my pink NYSUT golf shirt and put some pictures on Facebook. Some people haven't been too kind. Pink is not a good color for me. Somebody asked, "Do you need batteries for that?" I'm getting a lot of good ribbing.

Q. Who are you bringing to the Making Strides Walk next Saturday and what do you expect to be thinking?

I'll have a lot of emotions. My wife will be right by my side. We will have our WSTA team. My wife on Jan. 10 suffered a catastrophic aneurysm in which the doctors said she wasn't going to live, and if she did, she'd be in assisted living. She's doing phenomenally now. In fact, last weekend, she walked a 5K with me. We're going to celebrate the lives of so many people we lost far too young. It's going to be very special.

[RELATED STORY: NYSUT remembers Sonia Basko]


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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