HANCOCK COUNTY — October 20 marks the 25th anniversary for the popular Women Helping Women gala, an annual event that raises funds to help women obtain mammograms and other women’s health-related services.
“It’s our 25th anniversary, and so we’re kind of doing it up big,” said Allyson Smith, executive director of the Hancock Health Foundation.
The celebration gala, which is typically held at Addagio’s in Greenfield, has been moved to Embassy Suites in Noblesville to accommodate a larger crowd. The event features dinners, cocktails and live and silent auctions, with the addition of music and dancing this year.
“It’s going to be like a big party, so we’re very excited,” said Smith.
The foundation is even providing complimentary transportation to the event, with a shuttle bus picking up and dropping off at two Hancock County locations — Hancock Regional Hospital and the Hancock Wellness Center in McCordsville.
Seating is limited, so tickets must be purchased online by Oct. 6.
Smith said the silver anniversary gala will be the perfect way to celebrate all the amazing things Women Helping Women has done over the years.
The women’s clinic at Hancock Health provides basic health services for uninsured or under-insured women in Hancock County, including mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies, as well as education, navigation and support services.
Smith said the annual gala raises funds that are critical to managing the clinic, ensuring healthcare access for hundreds of local women in need.
In honor of the program’s 25th anniversary, the Hancock Health Foundation’s first executive director, Myra Bleill, will speak at the gala, sharing how much the program has grown.
“She was really the driving force behind the creation of Women Helping Women,” said Smith, who has worked with the foundation for 13 years but just took over as executive director this past summer.
The first year after it was formed in 1998, Women Helping Women paid for 26 mammograms, but Smith said the program has grown by leaps and bounds over the years.
“Because of the generosity of all of our donors in this community, we’ve been able to grow the clinic and expand our offerings so much,” said Smith. “It’s always been focused on breast cancer awareness and treatment and honoring survivors as well as those we’ve lost.”
Two Hancock Health employees who are currently undergoing breast cancer treatment — scheduler Mindy Rigney of Greenfield and receptionist Mary Kate Lukens of New Palestine — will be among the featured speakers at this year’s gala.
Rigney, who schedules mammograms and other appointments for Hancock Health, will speak at the gala just two weeks after undergoing reconstructive surgery following a double mastectomy she underwent in January.
The 44-year-old Greenfield woman got her first mammogram at the age of 40 and was directed to have a biopsy done to rule out cancer. She returned for a follow-up screening every six months, but noticed swelling in her lymph nodes shortly after a mammogram last March.
Doctors found that a mass had formed, which led her to have a lumpectomy. When that showed signs of further cancer, and testing revealed she was genetically predisposed to breast cancer, she opted to have a double mastectomy.
Her reconstructive surgery is scheduled for Oct. 6.
Rigney said she was honored to be asked to share her story at the upcoming Women Helping Women gala. “I didn’t hesitate. So many people are not aware of the program and don’t realize that there’s funding out there that will help them get these mammograms and treatments. If just one person schedules their mammogram due to my story, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” she said.
As a scheduler, Rigney said she often encounters women who are hesitant to schedule diagnostic tests due to the cost. “They’re not aware there are these programs (like Women Helping Women) that can help with their deductible, so it’s great to be able to share that with them. You can just hear the relief in their voice,” she said.
As a single mom to two teenage daughters, Rigney knows first-hand the challenges of covering the high deductibles often associated with healthcare.
Women Helping Women was a godsend, she said, helping her to cover her deductible and afford the chemotherapy she credits with saving her life.
Women Helping Women helps cover the cost of preventative healthcare and treatment for women who are uninsured or under-insured, or who struggle to meet their deductible after incurring expensive treatment.
While the program initially covered only mammograms, Smith said it has since expanded over the past 25 years to help pay for biopsies, chemotherapy, reconstructive surgeries and more.
“The Women Helping Women gala is our best fundraising event for the hospital, with the most participation. It’s just a really special evening because hospital and local leaders and the whole community comes together to support those who need help,” she said.
“I think it started out as a mostly women event, but now it’s so much more than that. Anybody who has ever been touched by breast cancer, they all come out to support this because they know how important it is. It’s just been really amazing to see it grow and to see how everybody has come together to support it and has enabled it to grow and help so many women over the years.”
To purchase tickets to this year’s Women Helping Women 25th anniversary gala, visit HancockHealth.Foundation/WHW.
Tickets are $125 each. For information, call 317-468-4177.