LaGrange ‘Breast Friends’ support group gearing up for ‘Paint the Town Pink’
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2015
LaGRANGE — Five years ago this month, the Rev. Carol Cook’s words echoed through a microphone on Lafayette Square as she opened the annual Paint the Town Pink event with prayer.
It was the fifth year of the annual awareness and fundraising event, when hundreds of community members come together the last weekend in September to raise money for local breast cancer patients, to provide free clinical breast exams and mammogram vouchers to qualified women, and to celebrate survivorship and hope.
On that day, Cook had no way of knowing that three years later, she would be fighting breast cancer herself.
“I received my diagnosis in January 2013,” she said. “It really threw me for a loop. I had never really been sick before.”
She got the news from her doctor on a Monday, and by Tuesday, she and her husband heard a knock on the door. It was Wanda Lowe, cancer care navigator at West Georgia Health and also a member of Breast Friends for Life, a local breast cancer support group.
“Wanda came with hugs and comfort and two books, one for me and one for my husband,” Cook said. “She gave me a breast cancer treatment guide along with a companion guide for my husband. I still refer to that book.”
Lowe and Cook both are now members of Breast Friends for Life, one of the main sponsors of Paint the Town Pink, which will be held this year from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 26 on Lafayette Square. The other main sponsors are West Georgia Health, HOPE for a Day, District 4 Public Health and the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition.
The morning will include the HOPE for a Day Walk, a 10-mile fundraising journey of hope to strive for a day without cancer. The walk started six years ago when an Atlanta organization that distributes money for breast cancer care denied funding to West Georgia Health and Breast Friends for Life for their outreach programs.
Breast Friends for Life co-founder Pam Herndon of LaGrange, whose sister, Jeanie Carlson, had died of breast cancer, suggested that Breast Friends for Life start a local walk — one that would keep the money raised in Troup and surrounding counties for breast cancer patients and their families.
The inaugural walk netted $66,000, way beyond expectations. In its five years, walkers have raised over half a million dollars for the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition’s and District 4 Health Services’ breast health and cancer care services; breast health screenings and mammogram vouchers for qualified women and men; and scholarships for family members of those who have had breast cancer.
Proceeds also have helped men and women with breast cancer who have needed help financially with utility bills, rent and prescription purchases. The group has even given funds to one mother with breast cancer so she would have the means to throw her 10-year-old son a birthday party.
Sherry Callaway, also a co-founder of Breast Friends for Life, said the BFFL support group and the HOPE for a Day walk have helped her channel her personal victory against breast cancer 19 years ago into a way to help other men and women with breast cancer cope with the disease.
“Our acronym for HOPE stands for Helping Other People Endure,” Callaway said. “I believe that God’s plan for me was to endure and in so doing, help others.”
Mary Ann Hodnett, a breast cancer survivor who is now a secretary in West Georgia Health’s Oncology Services Department, said the women in BFFL were a godsend.
“I met Wanda (Lowe) the day before my surgery in 2010, and she brought me a basket filled with all kinds of things to help lift my spirits,” Hodnett said. “I met the Breast Friends group soon after that.
“They’ve become my closest friends. We don’t have to explain things to each other. It’s a safe place where everyone can relate to each other even though our treatments may have been different. My husband and I joke that since I’m not from here, I had to get cancer to get friends.”
Susan Smith said she also received a basket from Breast Friends when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was mad as hell and told myself, ‘I’m not going to cry,’” Smith said. “Breast Friends gave me a basket, and my first thought was, ‘I don’t want your basket. I don’t want to be in your club.’”
But being in “the club,” she learned, meant that she was able to get to know women who had gone through her same emotions and had come out on the other side.
“Not having to explain it all to someone is a great support in itself,” Smith said.
Breast cancer survivor Charlotte Marshall also likened her diagnosis to being in a “club.”
“It’s like joining a sorority, a very selective one, that you didn’t initially want to be a part of,” she said. “But when I found this group of women, I felt an immediate connection, a bond where I don’t have to say anything if I don’t feel like it, and I still feel supported.
“I really found some kindred spirits being with other survivors.”
For more information about Breast Friends for Life, please leave a message at 706-302-6659 or email Wanda Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Paint the Town Pink
Paint the Town Pink on Sept. 26 will feature the annual HOPE for a Day Walk, a 10-mile walk to raise money for local breast cancer services. The walk begins at 8 a.m. through downtown LaGrange and ends at 12:15 p.m. on the Square.
West Georgia Health, the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition and District IV Public Health will provide free clinical breast exams, vouchers for free mammograms to those who qualify, women’s health screenings and information on women’s health and wellness issues.
Other activities include kids’ Zumba, a pound fitness demonstration, a performance by Nashville recording artist Sara Peacock, a performance by Stars and Stripes Twirlers, and a raffle drawing for a handmade quilt by the Golden Sew ‘N Sews, a quilting group at the Active Life Center.