Wigging Out For A Cause
● By Robert Frey
VIPinkBy Patrice Doucet
At VIPink, hosted by Cypress Bayou Casino Hotel on September 28, some pretty BigWigs were revealed! And during this month of October, breast cancer awareness month, they will be taking Acadiana by storm! Their mission? To raise money for the Acadiana Affiliate of Susan G. Komen to fund advances in breast cancer research, and support local grants for those battling breast cancer in Acadiana.
Komen Acadiana’s 2018 Class of BigWigs consists of 10 men and women nominated and selected from our Acadiana Community. From October 1-31, each BigWig will raise and/or donate a minimum of $1,000, which will be used to ensure access to essential breast health services and education programs, and support research to find the cures for breast cancer. The Prize for raising the most money? The coveted “Biggest Wig” trophy!
So why the pink wigs? Well, pink, of course, is the color denoting Breast Cancer Awareness and the wigs, most of them donated by Party Time, lighten up a very serious subject. BigWigs appear with them at any fundraisers they may host or like the ones planned for October:
Oct 13 - ZUMBA at June’s Dancers,
Oct. 16 - Celebrity Waiter Event at Agave
in Youngsville, LA featuring City
Council Rep Matt Romero
Oct. 17 - Dueling pianos and celebrity bartending
at the Grouse Room,
Oct. 24 - Fundraiser at POUR with Dr. Shaunda Grisby,
BigWigs began in 2014 when Heather Blanchard, then Executive Director of the Acadiana Affiliate of Susan G. Komen, saw the success of the Komen Twin Cities’ campaign and contacted Komen officials on how to duplicate the campaign in our area. Current Executive Director of Komen Acadiana, Kate Labue, was one of the initial BigWigs for Acadiana in 2015, where she met Affiliate Mission Coordinator, Jenny Best, who has been with the organization since 2014.
The campaign has come a long way, from raising close to $33,000 in the first year to an impressive $115,000 over the last four years. The majority of the BigWig Campaign funds stay local, with 75 percent supporting local community grants and 25 percent supporting research.
Like so many involved with Susan G. Komen, Kate and Jenny have personal interests in finding a cure for breast cancer. Jenny’s mother-in-law succumbed to the disease at 40, as did Kate’s grandmother and mother – and, more recently, her sister was diagnosed with the disease. Sadly, this is not as unusual of a scenario as you might think.
One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and, closer to home, Louisiana has the second highest mortality rate for the disease, all according to the Louisiana Cancer Prevention & Control Programs.
Physicians in the oncology field know, all too well, the prevalence of breast cancer in Acadiana, which is why Dr. Perri Prellop and Dr. Johnathan Thompson, radiation oncologists with Oncologics, and surgical oncologist Dr. Shaunda Grisby, have stepped up to be BigWigs this year.
“As an oncology health care provider, and a woman, the volume of breast cancer in our community is alarming,” says Dr. Prellop. “I have supported the efforts of Susan G. Komen for over 10 years and in being a BigWig, I will help raise awareness and valuable funding that contributes to our local breast cancer initiatives in Acadiana. BigWigs is a fun and unique cause that I am proud to support.”
For BigWigs like Stella Sonnier and Ashley Clark, the cure for breast cancer hits close to home, as they themselves are survivors. Both say they were taken by surprise when they received word in June that they were nominated by past BigWigs for this year’s class.
No stranger to Komen Acadiana, Stella Sonnier has been involved with the organization since 2008 as an invaluable member of their Race Committee. Stella is one of approximately 1,000 members of the Pink Ribbon Divas, a local breast cancer support group that encourages young survivors in our area.
When her own breast cancer diagnosis came in 2014, she noticed too many women handling the disease on their own, feeling ashamed about losing their breasts.
“As a survivor, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines; I want to be an active in fighting breast cancer,” Stella says. Stella sees every day as a gift from God, but also an opportunity to raise money for research, particularly for metastatic breast cancer, her particular area of focus.
Meeting people is a large part of Stella’s job as a store trainer at Super One Foods in Scott, which she feels puts her in a prime position to bring awareness to the disease that has taken so many lives. With eight Super One Foods stores throughout Acadiana, the fundraising opportunities are limited only by her imagination.
By early September, Stella was already planning for cook wagons to be at the Super One stores on the weekends as well as a “Wear a Pink Shirt to Work” day. She looks forward to sporting her pink wig at the events.
“We’ve lost seven people in our Divas group alone,” she says “I don’t want to lose any more friends. This disease has no age boundaries.”
Ashley Clark can attest that breast cancer makes no distinction. She was diagnosed with hormone-induced cancer at only 30 years old, with no breast cancer in her family’s medical history. Her daughters were eight and five years old at the time that her OB/GYN detected a lump during an annual exam, which she admits to having postponed for two years.
“As shy as I am, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’ when they asked me to be a BigWig,” Ashley says. She considers being chosen an honor and she is grateful to help increase awareness and raise money.
As you can imagine, being a cancer survivor has changed Ashley’s life in many ways. “You learn what really matters in life and you stop stressing over everything,” she says. And, it has the petite, once shy survivor initiating more conversations about the importance of self-exams and annual mammograms and sharing her story to anyone who will listen – in the doctor’s waiting room, at work, at the grocery store. “When I was first diagnosed I didn’t want to talk about my cancer because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, but now I use my experience to help others. I talk to women about their cancer and how they’re dealing with it and share with them how I’m dealing with it,” says Ashley.
Ashley points out that family plays an important role in helping a cancer patient, particularly a supportive spouse, parents, and siblings, and she recommends communicating with your children from the very beginning so they are not afraid. Her love of family time influenced her fundraiser ideas of a children’s race in Breaux Bridge, where she lives, and a “color run.”
While Ashley has hormone-induced breast cancer, she would like to see more research that leads to newer medications for non-hormone induced, as her friends with this type of breast cancer seem to have fewer options than she does.
We should all have a BigWig in our lives. Not someone who can get us tickets to a Saints game or invite us to their beach house, but, instead, someone who reminds us what is and isn’t important in life. Someone who teaches us about gratitude and real courage through their own challenges. Someone who gives us the opportunity to be a part of a bigger cause, finding a cure.