October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Meet two local guys rallying for the cause through Real Men Wear Pink of Oakland County
By Nicole Frehsee Mazur
Featured photography by Lee Smith
One night in the summer of 2017, Matt Pfeiffer found himself curled up in a giant pink blow-up chair off the side of M-24. He wasn’t sitting there because he was drunk (though he may have had a couple of drinks), or sleepy (though he had been awake for nearly 28 hours). He had plopped down for a much more noble reason: to raise money for breast cancer awareness.
“I roughed it and stayed in it all night,” says Pfeiffer, 51, who owns Northern Wholesale Flooring in Lake Orion. He was buoyed by local restaurants that sent over food and people who dropped by to check out the stunt for themselves — and donate money. (Pfeiffer raised $15,000 that year, from the chair event and others.) “It was a blast,” he says, adding that he joined the cause simply because he wants to make a difference in the community. “My mantra is no stuffy events. It’s all about making it fun and raising awareness.”
Now, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pfeiffer — along with two friends from Lake Orion, Garrett Hoffman and Jordan Knudsen — is heading into his fourth year as an ambassador for Real Men Wear Pink.
Run by the American Cancer Society, RMWP is dedicated to raising awareness and money for the fight against breast cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in women. According to the ACS, in 2020, more than 276,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In Michigan alone, that number is 8,800. During October, 265-plus RMWP chapters nationwide will rally for the cause, including five across Michigan. More than 30 ambassadors will join the fight this year as the Real Men Wear Pink of Oakland County. (Kevin Browett, SEEN’s publisher and CEO, is one of them.)
Last year, RMWP of Oakland County raked in $291,000, propelling the chapter to second in the country for fundraising. “We take a lot of pride in being very high up on the leaderboard,” says Julie Featherston, the Southfield-based senior community development manager for the American Cancer Society.
Any man can be an ambassador, as long as he commits to bringing in least $2,500 and wearing something pink every day — whether it’s a T-shirt or dyed facial hair — to spark awareness. Featherston, who’s in charge of recruiting local RMWP ambassadors, seeks “distinguished leaders in the community” who can tap their large networks for funds. “I’ve gone on LinkedIn and reached out cold,” she says, adding that this year’s fundraising goal is $125,000.
Fundraising this fall will surely look different than in years past, when Pfeiffer’s money-raising schemes included filming himself crashing weddings wearing a pink tuxedo and hosting “Boobs, Tubes and Dudes,” a massive beach party of pink-clad revelers in Lake Orion. “We know it’s a struggling year, so we’re not trying to do any record-breaking [fundraising] numbers,” says Hoffman, who’s teaming with Pfeiffer for a third year. “We just want to keep the awareness going.”
To that end, the 41-year-old, who works in real estate and owns a production firm, is working with Detroit rapper (and former D12 crew member) Swifty McVay to create a song and music video about breast cancer awareness. “We have some stunts that we’re working on,” he says. “I [try] to think outside the box.”
Pfeiffer, for one, says he’ll tone his “shenanigans” down; so far, he’s lined up a handful of local restaurants, bars and stores that have committed to raising $500 apiece through happy hours or auctioning off memorabilia on the walls. (He plans to shoot videos at each business and post on social media.) “It’s going to be a simpler year,” he says. “I believe we can make a bigger impact in terms of awareness than cash, but even if we raise $10, that can help someone. We don’t have to get caught up in how big or how much.”
Despite the challenges that 2020 presents, this year is more crucial than ever in battling breast cancer: Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of mammograms being performed is down 87% nationwide — “which could have a significant impact on the timely initiation of treatment for treatable cancers,” says Featherston. Funds raised by RMWP go toward breast cancer research, education and patient support, like rides to treatment and other doctor appointments.
Still, Hoffman says the events surrounding RMWP will reinforce the most rewarding part of the campaign: connecting with people whose lives have been touched by cancer. “My favorite part of this is the conversations I’m able to have,” says Hoffman, who lost his grandmother and uncle to cancer, and whose wife beat thyroid cancer. “I’ve cried with people so many times just hearing their stories. It’s very touching.”
Pfeiffer agrees: “I’ve met so many good people through this, including cancer survivors and the families of people who didn’t make it. They’ve come up and thanked me. That’s kind of intoxicating,” he says. “I do this to help people, but I get as much — and more — out of it than they do.”
To learn more about the Real Men Wear Pink of Oakland County or to donate to the campaign, visit https://secure.acsevents.org/site/STR?pg=entry&fr_id=97818