September 17, 2013
Countless individuals have been personally affected by breast cancer or known someone affected by breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 232,340 females and 2,240 males will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Of those, 39,620 women and 410 males will die from the disease.
It’s one of the most known cancers in the United States with some of the strongest, most vocal advocates in health care.
West Georgia Health cancer care navigator Wanda Lowe has spent a significant portion of her 35-year career as a registered nurse fighting against breast cancer — not just in her community, but in her own body.
She has headed committees, contests, support groups and more in her quest to provide awareness to Troup County and beyond on the dangers of breast cancer and proper detection.
On Sept. 28, her brainchild, Paint the Town Pink, will be celebrating its eighth year, bringing with it hope and support for breast cancer patients and survivors.
“We didn’t have anything going in this community at that time eight years ago,” Lowe said. “… Someone had this idea that we should do a rally on the square for breast cancer survivors. Well that kind of stuck with me.”
The celebration began following conversations with members of the Milliken Design Center as Lowe attempted to raise money for those participating in the Susan G. Komen three-day walk in Atlanta.
It turns out, there was a new crop of women looking to push breast cancer awareness in the community, and they wanted to do it in a big way.
“This was a whole different group of women who were middle aged, some younger, who wanted to be doing something and didn’t want to just sit around and pat each other on the back about having cancer,” she said. “They wanted to be very active and support other women, yet bring a lot of awareness to the community about the disease.”
Paint the Town Pink was born. The annual event held in downtown LaGrange has become the brightest, biggest, pinkest event the city and Troup County has ever known.
Pink ribbons adorn hundreds of local businesses, signs telling others to “Paint the Town Pink” are scattered everywhere across the community and survivors young and old swarm the area to give of themselves for those beginning their own breast cancer battles.
“It just kept getting bigger,” Lowe said.
They were turned down twice for grant money to push local awareness.
As with any fighter of breast cancer, Lowe and her team, including H.O.P.E. walk coordinator Pam Herndon, never had their spirits wane.
“That just motivated us down here to say, ‘You know what? We can do this on our own. We don’t have to have these big organizations and rely on them.’ We’re going to use this money to support our community,” Lowe said, “and we’re going to make sure it’s spread within the 12-county area of District 4 Health Services.”
In 2010, Paint the Town Pink combined with fundraising walk H.O.P.E. for a Day to create the largest breast cancer extravaganza in the community, a gathering for supporters as well as a fundraising walk for breast cancer.
In its first year, Lowe and her group raised $60,000. Last year, they raised more than $100,000.
“It blows me away every year. It blows me away. … People are calling me wanting to be involved,” she said.
This year, the fourth year of the combined events, promises to be more of the same. Paint the Town Pink and H.O.P.E. for a Day both will be held on Sept. 28 with the walk beginning first.
All walkers need to be at the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts at 214 Bull St. by 7 a.m. About 165 people have signed up to raise $500 for the 10-mile walk, with another 165 volunteering as crew members, also tasked with raising $500.
The walk will begin at 8 a.m. with Paint the Town Pink scheduled to begin at 9:30 on Lafayette Square and end at 1 p.m. The Young Singers of West Georgia will perform during the event, with a Western theme expected.
In keeping with the theme, participants of Stars and Stripes Twirling and Dance also will perform — and for good reason. Director Carolyn Evans is a breast cancer survivor, herself.
“This is their 25th anniversary of being in existence, and they started performing on the square 25 years ago,” Lowe said.
Administrators with West Georgia Health, including Dr. Vince Scoglietti, as well as District 4 Health Services and the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition will provide free clinical breast exams to anyone, along with vouchers for mammograms to be performed at West Georgia Health’s Women’s Health Center.
The event also will kickoff for October the Women’s Health Center’s discounted mammograms.
“A lot of people say they’re going to do it, say they’re going to do it, and they never stop to pick up the phone and make that appointment,” Lowe said. “I want to cut out that. I want to be able to come up that day and go home with an appointment to get that checked.”
West Georgia Health is the only local provider of digital mammograms. In January, the health system will be the only local provider of breast MRIs for proper tumor imaging.
If anything, the women involved in Paint the Town Pink are some of the strongest and most vocal in Troup County — as supporters, advocates and survivors.
“It is a bunch of women who are passionate about it,” Lowe said, “and we push – we’re pushy – and we don’t always take no for an answer.”