Rick Dunetz from The Side-Out Foundation Shares Updates

What progress has been made with the Side-Out Foundation?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to feature our charity partner, The Side-Out Foundation. We asked Rick Dunetz, Side-Out’s executive director, to share the progress they have made over the past eleven years. He is quick to point out that all credit goes to the volleyball community, not simply Side-Out. We are so proud to be part of this movement to bring awareness to stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer and research for the patients who need it most.

How many people have been involved in Dig Pink® events?

Since The Side-Out Foundation was founded in 2004, hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in Dig Pink® events. The majority of participants are volleyball players, coaches, parents and fans, and they raise the lion’s share of donations during the Dig Pink® Rally each fall.

How many people have been positively affected by fundraising, how many trials have there been and what progress has been made in research?

We are getting ready to start our 3rd phase of the Side-Out Protocol. Although the trial size is small (50 patients so far), the results have been promising. Our researchers have been able to identify the best drugs to treat each patient’s cancer, developing a targeted therapy based on the proteomic and molecular profile of the tumors for patients with metastatic breast cancer. Unfortunately, there is not much research for patients with metastatic disease, the most advanced form of cancer, and we are incredibly grateful that the volleyball community has rallied around this community to affect change.

We were thrilled to receive the 2015 PhRMA Community Champion Research & Hope Award, an honor we share with the entire volleyball community!

Is there a story about a certain person’s journey that sticks out in your mind?

We have gotten to know some incredible young students through the Side-Out Ambassador Program. One in particular stands out in my mind: Emily Sheehan was a player from Lenape High School in Medford, NJ. Before her senior year in high school, doctors discovered a benign tumor in her hip, sidelining her from volleyball that year, but deepening her resolve to bring her community together for the Dig Pink® event. She made the trip from New Jersey to Virginia to tour one of the research labs for the Side-Out Protocol.   She was in a wheelchair due to her surgery, but she was so positive and excited to learn!

She went home and organized not only a Dig Pink® volleyball game, but also a 5k walk/fun! Despite her absence from the volleyball court, she remained an inspiration to her teammates who chose her as one of their team captains. She is the true definition of a leader and it was such an honor to work with her.

What ideas would you suggest for honoring breast cancer patients at matches?

This is such an important part of each event, and schools come up with some really special ways to honor survivors. Some of those are:

  • presenting them with flowers
  • having a player walk them out to the gym
  • naming a survivor honorary coach
  • asking a survivor to serve the first ball to start competition
  • having a moment of silence for those we have lost

To learn more about The Side-Out Foundation, visit side-out.org.