Raising awareness: Puttin on Pink host fifth annual gala

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015

surviving: Breast cancer survivors from left, Henrietta Brewer, Joan Martin,  Rosie Barrett,  Ann Hunt, Beth Ross,  Alyssa Eilers, Diane Sims, Gail Watts and Shelia Treadway.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

surviving: Breast cancer survivors from left, Henrietta Brewer, Joan Martin, Rosie Barrett, Ann Hunt, Beth Ross, Alyssa Eilers, Diane Sims, Gail Watts and Shelia Treadway.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

“Supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors, honoring the taken and never, ever giving up hope.” –– Author unknown.

Abbie Turnage, a technician in the mammography department at Highland Community Hospital, witnesses the effects of a breast cancer diagnosis on an almost daily basis.
In 2011, she decided to bring awareness of the disease to Pearl River County.
At the time, there was nowhere for women struggling with breast cancer, or the cost of a mammogram, to turn to for help in Pearl River County.
In response, Turnage, with the Pearl River County Partners in Leadership team, put together the first Puttin on the Pink gala.
Saturday, the group held its fifth annual gala at the Barn at Sarah Bella in Picayune. More than $20,000 was raised this year, Turnage said.
Those funds are used to purchase vouchers for residents of Pearl River County to receive a mammogram, Turnage said.
“A mammogram without insurance costs about $200 plus the cost of interpretation,” Turnage said. “Most health insurance plans pay for a yearly mammogram.”
The average age a woman without family history of breast cancer should begin having a mammogram is 40, Turnage said. It is recommended women with a history of the disease begin yearly checkups at 35.
“We suggest women begin self breast exams at the age of 20,” she said.
Puttin on the Pink board president Byron Hill said, this year, the group implemented a travel expense program.
“We issue gas cards to help people cover their travel expenses to and from chemotherapy,” Hill said. “Even people with insurance need help offsetting costs.”
The group has also partnered with each of the county high schools and will be selling seat cushions and pink T-shirts at football games, Hill said.
Turnage and Hill said all funds raised stay in Pearl River County.
“We’re not sending money to a corporate office,” Turnage said. “It goes straight to local applicants that need it. We want to help.”
Puttin on the Pink members also include, Diane Sims, Shane Fitzgerald, Christy Goss, Loren Fortenberry, James Turnage, Ashley Breland and Tonya Arnona.
Among the attendees Saturday night were breast cancer survivors.
Joan Martin has lived in the Picayune for the past 40 years and was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in February of this year.
“I was two to three years behind on my mammograms and when I finally went, the doctors detected a mass,” Martin said. “There’s no family history. When I found out about the diagnosis, I walked around crying in the backyard. I felt like I wouldn’t live through it.”
As of Saturday, Martin was nine days post double mastectomy. She now takes a chemotherapy pill, as she couldn’t tolerate conventional chemotherapy administered through a port prior to her surgery.
Martin said her friends encouraged her to attend the gala.
“My husband’s insurance covers my medical costs, but this program would be very beneficial if I were in need,” Martin said.
Last April, 28-year-old Alyssa Eilers discovered a lump in her breast during a self-exam. Eilers, who is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is the office manager for Children’s International, LLC, one of the event’s sponsors.
Eilers had no risk factors for the disease and said regular check-ups saved her life.
“The cancer was stage three when I found it,” Eilers said. “It was unbelievable and terrifying. I have a husband and a then 3-year-old. It was very hard to figure out how to keep life as normal as possible. However, the outpouring of love and support was more overwhelming than the bad.”
She underwent 12 weeks of targeted therapy and had a double mastectomy in February. This spring, she completed nine weeks of aggressive chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment. She is now undergoing targeted therapy and reconstruction surgery is scheduled for November.
“I love Puttin on the Pink,” Eilers said. “It’s so beautiful to see so many people rallying for such a great cause. There’s so much support out there, you just don’t know it until you’re in the thick of it.”
Eilers’ advice to women is to “know your body.”
“Then you can recognize when something is not normal,” Eilers said. “You should also have a medical team you can trust. They saved my life. As I stand here today, there’s no evidence of cancer.”
Breast cancer survivor Beth Ross spoke during the festivities about her battle with the disease and the family she lost.
She was 41 when doctors discovered a tumor. Through in-depth testing, medical personnel discovered the disease had spread to her lymph nodes.
“At that point, I knew what was going to happen and what I had to do,” Ross said. “The hard part was, I had four children ages 8 to 18, and how do you tell them without scaring them to death? I knew I had to make a choice and the choice I made was to be strong and do whatever the doctors said.”
Ross said she went through four months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. During that time there were two factors that helped her get through treatments; her faith and family.
“What you guys are doing here is awesome,” she said. “You have the opportunity to be that friend to help someone around you. Your donations tonight will stay right here in your community and help the people closest to you in need.”
Learn more about Puttin on the Pink by visiting the Facebook page.
People interested in applying for help or donating may contact Turnage at 601-358-9535 and through email at agturnage@highlandch.com.

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