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Celebrity Chef Cook-off to raise awareness of colon cancer

Nancy Henry | For the Daily Courier
Officers of the Fayette County Colon Cancer Network who are planning the yearly Celebrity Chef Cook-off from left are Rick Rafail, secretary; Kathy (Hill) Rafail, 14-year survivor, president; Joe Gentilcore, seven-year survivor, treasurer; and Joe Carei, 11-year survivor, vice president.

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By Nancy Henry
Monday, March 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Fayette County Colon Cancer Network is holding its annual Celebrity Chef Cook-off on Saturday in Anthony's Lakeside Party Center in McClellandtown.

“FCCCN is a nonprofit with the sole purpose to educate and advocate the importance of colon cancer screenings,” said Joseph Carei, who was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer 11 years ago.

Carei said that as he faced the toughest challenge of his life, he was met by the kindness of people in the community. While he was sick, friends took it upon themselves to cook in his Uniontown restaurant, Caileigh's. Through their kindnesses, the concept for Celebrity Chef Cook-off was conceived, he said.

“The Celebrity Chef Cook-off created an opportunity for myself and others in the community to help those facing this same struggle,” he said.

The fund-raiser will begin at 6 p.m. The food is prepared by chefs and others from across the area. Many are new to the event; some are old favorites who are at the cook-off every year.

Funds from the cook-off will be used to help bring attention to the importance of early detection of colon cancer.

“We spread the word about getting checked early. My wife, Kathy, was diagnosed at age 46,” said Rick Rafail, secretary of the network. Kathy Hill Rafail, a native of Connellsville, is the group's president.

“I was 46 when diagnosed, and Joe (Carei) was diagnosed at age 33, and our organization's treasurer, Joe Gentilcore, was diagnosed well before age 50,” said Kathy Rafail. “Although the recommended age for a first colonoscopy is 50, we tell people to examine family history and commit to the procedure at an earlier age. That is why this year's theme is ‘Get Scoped — Get Living.' Colon cancer is the most beatable cancer of them all if you catch it early.”

“Our whole purpose is to promote colon cancer awareness in Fayette County,” said Rick Rafail. “Research shows that colon cancer deaths have gone down by 6 percent statewide. We are trying to reach everyone of all income levels in Fayette County to increase our positive outcomes. Our initiative is working with the cooperation of the doctors and hospitals in the area. We are doing some good. We know that for a fact.”

The network has pledged $35,000 of the cook-off proceeds to Uniontown Hospital. The donation is being utilized to purchase a colonoscope for surgical and diagnostic purposes at the hospital. More than 2,500 colonoscopies are performed annually in the facility.

“On behalf of our medical staff and the patients we serve, we are deeply appreciative of this donation. Uniontown Hospital and Fayette County Colon Cancer Network continue to promote early detection and treatment of colon cancer through a procedure called a colonoscopy. We realize that all of the donations for the Celebrity Chef Cook-off are raised by hard-working volunteers and from local corporate sponsorships. The event itself and the efforts of Colon Cancer Network are commendable,” said Paul Bacharach, president/CEO of Uniontown Hospital.

At the event guest chefs prepare their favorite dishes. These men and women are volunteers. They are not paid to be at the cook-off. They donate their time and all of their ingredients.

Guests sample dishes including seafood, prime rib, pasta, spare ribs, lamb chops, Chinese, Thai, Mexican and other ethnic foods, homemade specialties, decadent desserts and more. One guest chef will win the best chef contest and will receive a prize.

“I have won Celebrity Chef twice for my prime rib, which seems to be a favorite,” said Rick Rafail, a teacher and pool installer but not a chef.

In addition to the tastings, attendees will be able to bid on valuable auction items, including a Hines Ward Steelers jersey, a 24-inch Toshiba television with DVD donated by Craig Appliance and Furniture of Connellsville, a sofa, a specialty dinner and more.

From 400 to 500 guests are expected. Tickets cost $40 per person.

Some of the network's achievements through the years have been the “Faces of Colon Cancer Campaign,” an informative website and an educational video with survivor stories and doctors' commentary for those diagnosed with colon cancer. The success of this event and awareness efforts depend on ticket sales and sponsors.

“We want to thank our sponsors for their gracious donations, and we are grateful and appreciative to those who attend,” said Carei.

Anyone interested in buying tickets, volunteering or donating to support the cause can call Caleigh's at 724-437-9463 or 724-437-7665.

The network is a 501(c)3 organization. Donations to the nonprofit are tax-deductible.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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