GREENFIELD – When the mammogram came back inconclusive, Molly Arnold knew she was supposed to check back in a few months with her doctor, get another exam just to be safe.
But life got in the way — a toddler son, a husband who travels, a move hours away — and a year passed before Arnold made it in to a doctor’s office to have the lump checked out again. They discovered Stage 1 carcinoma but told the young mother she was lucky — it was early, smaller than a peanut and had not spread to any lymph nodes.
But when Arnold emerged from surgery to remove the small cancerous mass, she learned another had been found — invasive lobular carcinoma. It was Stage 3, meaning it had begun to spread.
She marked that moment as when the fight for her life began, aided by the encouragement and commiseration of two other friends facing breast cancer, Melissa Cale and Annie Grinstead. Arnold, the keynote speaker at Thursday night’s 19th annual Women Helping Women celebration, shared the heartache and loss she experienced as a young mother navigating her own cancer treatment and as a friend of other women affected by the same disease.
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The event raised at least $78,000 among sponsorship, live and silent auctions and the fund-the-need fundraiser at the close of the evening, organizers said.
Donations brought in at the event offset the cost of mammograms, biopsies, pelvic exams and prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies. The fundraiser, held Thursday evening at BluFalls Arts and Events Center in Pendleton, also supports education and guidance for women after a cancer diagnosis, officials said. The $6,000 raised last year during the fund-the-need fundraiser covered the cost of at least 50 3D mammograms for women in the county, said Lisa Wood, director of imaging at Hancock Regional Hospital.
Putting a face to the disease that affects one in eight women was Arnold, who shared three pictures with the more than 400 people gathered. One showed her son, Reese, kissing her shaved head, the peach fuzz of hair just regrowing after chemotherapy. One showed Grinstead, a survivor, with her daughter, their smiles lighting up the frame. And one showed Cale with the husband and three children she left behind after cancer claimed her life.
Cale was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer when she was eight months pregnant, Arnold said. They met when someone at Arnold’s work asked her to organize a gift card drive for Cale’s family — before Arnold’s own diagnosis — and instantly hit it off.
“Even though we never had met, we felt like old friends,” Arnold said, recalling, “I could hardly bear the pain of her journey.”
They talked every night for four months. And then, one night, Cale didn’t call. Arnold knew what that meant, she said.
Cale died when her youngest child was still an infant.
Arnold told the audience a 3D mammogram, known as tomosynthesis, could have detected the tumors earlier and prevented all three women’s advanced cancers.
“I had three standard mammograms,” she said. “Three missed opportunities to prevent this.”
She encouraged the crowd to donate generously to prevent similar stories from happening to more women.
She pointed to the picture of Grinstead, who received treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer and who is in recovery, as “the new face of cancer.”
Demand for provide low- or no-cost mammograms, including tomosynthesis, to women in the region has grown in the last year with the establishment of a Jane Pauley Community Health Center in Rush County, which refers under- or uninsured women to Women Helping Women, Wood said. Women Helping Women also receives referrals from Greenfield’s Jane Pauley Center and other physicians throughout their coverage area, Wood said.
“The need is always there,” said Debbie Muegge, the hospital’s lead mammographer.
Women Helping Women began in 1998 with the creation of the Women’s Health Task Force.
The program’s first celebration and fundraiser was planned the next year, and more than $10,000 in donations led to 26 women receiving mammograms. The event has grown significantly since then — last year’s event raised some $60,000 toward mammograms, education and support, said Nancy Davis, executive director of the Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation.