Mesa group maintains breast cancer help The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa group maintains breast cancer help

Mesa group maintains breast cancer help
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By Synder Mackie
Tribune Contributor

Even though October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many groups found that the pandemic limited their ability to do hold the fundraising and awareness efforts they usually do then.

But Mesa-based Bag and Boob Babes, a nonprofit a women’s cancer awareness group founded in 2012 by Marilyn Reed and Kay Foley kept the spirit of the month alive.

“We have sewn over 1,000 face masks and donated to MD Anderson Cancer Center, Ironwood Treatment Center and Hospital caregivers,” Reed said.

“We depend on donations from individuals, company’s and the community,” she explained. “We usually have two fundraisers, one in February – Women’s Health Month – and in October but we have not been able to have either fundraisers this year due to COVID-19.”

She said the group appreciates that supporters have been sending donations through Paypal at its site, bagandboobbabes.com” so it can continue purchasing material, yarn and postage for the materials the group makes and ships to other hospitals.

Those materials include aprons to hold JP drains after mastectomies, knitted knockers for breast prosthetic, chemo turbans, eye masks, lap throws, small totes, knit comfort throws, prayer shawls and handmade inspirational cards. 

Reed and Foley started the group by recruiting women who loved to sew and knit and had the passion to help women confronting breast cancer.

From starting with three women in 2012, “we have over 150 women and men in our group all over the U.S.,” Reed said, including a northwest chapter in Idaho and a northeast one in Indiana headed by Sheila Wayman and Cathy Haley, respectively.

While the Mesa group pre-pandemic numbered around 50 women, smaller groups now meet in various senior parks.

The Bag and Boob Babes follows a mission statement of “women helping women through difficult times.”

“Some of the women in our group have gone through the journey of breast cancer, some have had family or friends that have breast cancer, some are in the medical field and some just want to do something good for someone going through something bad,” Reed said.

“Winter residents from other states and Canada go back to their home state and spread the word and get together with their friends and sew and knit,” she continued. “We donate our comfort items to many hospitals, treatment centers and surgeons in Arizona and across the country. We donate all our items and we never charge for anything that we make. We totally depend on donations from individuals, our community and by having fundraisers.”

The women helped by the group confront a particularly traumatic time as a result of the ongoing pandemic, according to breast cancer survivor and physical therapist Suzanne Dilli,

“I think the hard thing with the coronavirus right now is that cancer is such a traumatic diagnosis and with the restrictions on visitors, many have to go through this by themselves right now,” she said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 48,530 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer” this year alone.

Melissa Shelby, a breast cancer nurse practitioner for over 20 years, said Bag and Boob Babes has done an admirable job with its activities even though the pandemic has put a crimp in fundraising efforts.

“They pay about $6,000 to $8,000 in fabric per year so they can make these things,” Shelby said.

Shelby noted that when it comes to breast cancer treatment, “there’s a disparity and it’s heartbreaking, especially living in Arizona, with our Native American population.”

“Those who are African American and develop breast cancer tend to have a higher mortality rate because the presentation is delayed due to sometimes the lack of screening or lack of support systems in their area,” she said.

According to the American Cancer Society, in Arizona, the mortality rate of breast cancer is 19.7 – 20.4 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 25-27.9 percent for non-Hispanic Black citizens.

The U.S. Department of Health’s Office on Women’s Health has reported that fewer American women are dying from breast cancer every year, while diagnoses have remained stable, with a drop in mortality at an average of 1.9 percent per year in the previous 10 years.

This drop can be attributed to new drugs such as the recently introduced practice of immunotherapy, which works alongside traditional chemotherapy and according to Shelby “has made a huge difference in women with metastatic breast cancer.”

Additionally, Shelby said, genetic testing has improved greatly and allows those with unforeseen risk factors to have earlier detection, which is crucial in a breast cancer early diagnosis.

The state health department has noted that if caught early, women have a 98 percent chance of beating breast cancer.

Both Dilli and Shelby said women need to stay vigilant on screenings as well as practice active-risk reductions, while staying connected and aiding those in their social circles who may be affected by this disease.

“I think it’s always ideal to ask them, ‘what can I do to help you?’” Dilli said. “For me, it was someone to go and walk with me and get my exercise or helping get healthy food and meals prepared. It’s just really asking that person what they need at that moment.”

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