Saturday morning Rod Rothaus will arrive at North Park Boathouse for a tradition that began with his near death. For the fifth consecutive year, Rothaus, a cancer survivor, will join family, friends, physicians and strangers at the Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5K Run/1M Walk. The June 29 event supports research efforts of the Sarcoma Foundation of America and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and is a “terrific thing” to be a part of, said Rothaus, 50.
Rothaus’ connection to the cause began five years ago. After doctors struggled to determine his ailments, the Temple Emanuel member was eventually diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer typically occurring in the bones or nearby soft tissue.
In 2015, the South Hills resident underwent chemotherapy. During the nearly one year treatment period, Rothaus connected with similarly diagnosed patients through social media. He shared information about his case, coping strategies, and encouraged others to remain positive. Rothaus’ network grew, and to this day he remains committed to helping those in similar situations.
“It’s a weird brotherhood or sisterhood where some have lived and some have died,” he said.
Among those who Rothaus connected with while receiving chemotherapy was Laura Bulmer. The Canadian, like him, had Ewing’s sarcoma and had received her diagnosis a few years earlier. Rothaus followed Bulmer’s Instagram account and was inspired by her posts.
He called Bulmer “a fighter with great spirit and positivity,” in a 2015 piece for Sarcoma Foundation of America.
Bulmer died in March 2015. She was 28.
When Rothaus and his two children decided to participate in the PCS 5K that summer, they held pictures of Bulmer and dedicated their walk in her memory. Four years later, Rothaus continues the practice.
“I walk for Laura every year. I am still in touch with her sister,” he said.
By participating in the event, Rothaus and others have worked to increase awareness of Ewing’s sarcoma. They have also consistently raised money to support research related costs. This year, Rothaus’ team raised nearly $10,000. Since 2015, that sum has totaled more than $60,000.
Rothaus credited his sister, ex-wife and mother for helping aid the efforts and disseminate the message.
“Personally, I’m not comfortable asking people for money but it’s important,” he said.
“The more people you make aware of something, the more likely they are to tell someone else and spread the word,” said Joan Rothaus, Rod’s mother.
Asking people to support sarcoma research is no different than asking them to support any other cause, she explained. “If you are passionate about it,” and you know those you are asking, the message will resonate “and people will react.”
Rothaus credited Elliott Oshry, of Ketchum, and mentors from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh with teaching her fundraising techniques.
“I had Sylvia Robinson and Sylvia Busis. They were terrific role models. They were philanthropic, compassionate, caring, approachable, dynamic women who always had time for everyone. They were just terrific role models to see.”
Rod said that life too has provided him teachers and that their influence pushed him to remain positive and continue living each day. Even so, such optimism does not negate doubt. Rothaus still struggles with understanding why he survived Ewing’s sarcoma and others did not.
“It’s hard for me because I wonder, ‘Why me? What happened with me?’ Who knows? I wish I knew,” he said.
Even amid the uncertainty, Rothaus has gained perspective.
“I learned a lot about adversity and it has helped me moving forward.”
For the past five years, Rothaus has tried to transmit such lessons to his two teenage children.
“My son had something happen to him, not health-related, but it caused him some stress, and I was telling him, ‘You have two ways to look at this,’ said Rothaus. ‘Either you bury it and put it out of mind — because if you don’t deal with it, it’s always going to follow you around waiting to bubble up — or you look it straight it in the eyes and fight it straight on.’”
The message is a frequent trope for Rothaus, but depending on the audience results are mixed, he explained. Whereas fellow sarcoma patients respond to Rothaus’ charge, such spiels are received differently at home.
After Rothaus delivered the aforementioned inspirational message to his son, the teenager replied, “‘Dad, what I’m getting through isn’t cancer,’ which is the perfect answer for a teenager,” noted the father. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.