Breast Cancer Awareness
The PA Breast Cancer Coalition (PBCC), founded in 1993 by Pat Halpin-Murphy, is an organized statewide nonprofit designed to extend public awareness of breast cancer and to encourage increased public and private funding for research, legislative advocacy and high-quality screening, diagnosis and treatment.
On October 1, the PBCC will kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month by turning the water in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Fountain pink. Then, on October 15, the PA Breast Cancer Coalition Conference will be held at the Harrisburg Hilton.
Harrisburg Magazine asked Halpin-Murphy five questions about the organization she founded two decades ago to help Pennsylvania women and their families who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
What compelled you to found the PBCC in 1993?
I’m a breast cancer survivor myself. I was diagnosed at stage-3, which is late. I went through the standard treatments – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – along with complications. But I came out of it pretty well, and a few years later, I was still alive.
So, I thought, “Wow, given my diagnosis and the various difficulties I had during treatment, I’m really fortunate and lucky to still be alive.” I felt that maybe I was spared for a reason, and it occurred to me that women who are diagnosed, as well as their families, need help. And that is what gave me the idea to start the PA Breast Cancer Coalition.
We started out with legislation that required insurance companies to pay the cost for mammograms. Believe it or not, in those days, some of them did not cover it. Now, of course, they all do.
What is the mission of the PBCC?
We want to help women and their families who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. We do that in many ways: we help fund breast cancer research, we help women who are uninsured gain access to free treatment and we send out “Friends Like Me Care Packages” (filled with information about the disease and feel-good items that let them know we are thinking about them) to women who are recently diagnosed with the disease. We also do a lot of education about breast cancer, like at our conference on October 15 about the latest treatments and research.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of PBCC. What does it mean to you to reach this milestone?
Looking back, I think of the changes that we have been able to make to help women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. For instance, getting coverage for reconstructive surgery; for a long time, many insurers did not cover that cost, and we were able to get legislation through to encourage them to cover it.
If you could narrow it down to just one, what has been the one moment – during the PBCC’s 20 years – that most sticks out in your mind as the perfect example of why you do what you do?
I often think back to a time when someone called me and said that they knew a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she didn’t have insurance or money for treatment. This woman essentially went home after the diagnosis, got in bed and turned her face to the wall. We were put in touch with her, and we were able to connect her with free treatment of breast cancer. She got treated, and she lived.
How can readers get involved?
We would love for them to participate with our activities. For instance, we are turning the Capitol Fountain pink on October 1 at 11 a.m. to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We’d like to invite anyone reading this to come join us. It’s a wonderful celebration. Readers can also participate in our Breast Cancer Conference, which is on October 15 in Harrisburg, to learn about the latest research in treatment and healthy-living activities for women who have been diagnosed. We also have many activities for those who want to volunteer, and many people have wanted to do their own local fundraisers, which has been enormously helpful to us in funding our work. We can help with these fundraisers, if they’re interested.
For more information about PBCC or to learn how to get involved, visit pabreastcancer.org.
On October 19, more than 4,500 fighters, survivors and supporters will gather on City Island to take part in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Harrisburg 5K walk. Last year alone, the event raised approximately $848,000, which is used by the American Cancer Society to fight breast cancer through education, advocacy, service and research.
Harrisburg Magazine caught up with Catherine Stetler, volunteer event chair for the walk, to ask her five questions about the event.
For those who may be unfamiliar, describe the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event?
Harrisburg is one of 300 communities nationwide that hosts the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society to save lives from breast cancer.
The dollars raised fund groundbreaking research to find, prevent, treat and cure breast cancer; ensure access to mammograms for women who need them; and provide free resources and support to the one in two newly diagnosed women who turn to the society for help and support.
The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk of Harrisburg began in 1997 and has grown tremendously over the past 16 years. We have over 450 teams of walkers that come out to help us finish the fight against breast cancer. Each year, those team members bring more passion to the event.
You can see the passion in their energy levels, their creative outfits and, more importantly, you can see the passion in the fundraising that they do. Over the past three years, this event has surpassed its fundraising goal, and this year we are trying to raise $900,000.
What makes this event special?
I think what makes this event special is how everyone comes together to fight this awful disease. We’re all here for someone we know who has been impacted by breast cancer. We specifically honor those loved ones through our tribute garden, which is located along Front Street across from the hospital. It is a beautiful and emotional portion of the walk. The tribute garden gives participants an opportunity to take that moment to reflect on a loss or honor a survivor and their fight. It brings everything back to the heart of the event – those people in our lives that have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
I first got involved with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in 2009 as a way to honor the memory of my grandmother who passed away from breast cancer when I was 4. As I have been on the planning committee, I have attended events to promote the walk, and I have found myself so blown away by how many people have been impacted by this disease. Everyone has a story about breast cancer.
What is your favorite moment of the walk?
My favorite moment is right at the start of the walk. After working for months with the planning committee to get everything organized, there is always some anxiety as the morning gets started. Will everything go as planned? Does everyone know where they need to be? Will people show up? And then, crowds of pink start coming over the hill and down to the starting line. It’s such an incredible feeling to stand there and watch as people start walking. I think I stood on the stage for at least 15 minutes last year watching masses of people make their way across the starting line. There are so many people there, and each person radiates excitement and enthusiasm. Many of us have lost loved ones to breast cancer, which is something you never get over, but there is such a strong feeling of hope in the crowd. Everyone is there to put an end to breast cancer, and it’s exciting to know that with every step and every dollar raised, we are getting closer to that achievement – and we are doing it together.
What does the event mean to its participants and the community as a whole?
For the participants, the event is a way to honor breast cancer survivors and to remember those we have lost. It’s something people can do to help make a change. It’s a way to fight back against the disease.
For the community, advances made through breast cancer research, funded by dollars raised at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, impact every person faced with a diagnosis. These advances also help make advances in research and treatment for other forms of cancer. In addition to funding cancer research, the Strides event helps ensure that when someone is diagnosed with any form of cancer, they can call the American Cancer Society any hour of the day, any day of the week, and gain access to resources and services.
Why is breast cancer awareness so important?
This year, nearly 3,000 women in the Greater Harrisburg community will be diagnosed with breast cancer. By volunteering or making a donation at the Making Strides event, we can make sure these women don’t face it alone. It is also important that we encourage the women in our community to stay well by making healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to diet and exercise and getting mammograms every year after their 40th birthday.
To get involved in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Harrisburg event, register at makingstrideswalk.org/harrisburg or at the registration tent on the morning of the walk.