Helping Other Women Drives Breast Cancer Survivor
WHEELING — “What Drives You” is the theme for this year’s Driving Fore a Cure golf tournament organized by Ohio Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Inc.
It’s easy to see what drives Kathy Blass, the organization’s founder and president. As a breast cancer survivor, she is set firmly on a course to make other women’s journeys smoother and more comfortable.
The Wheeling resident, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2003, started Ohio Valley Breast Cancer Awareness two years later. Since that time, she said, “We have served over 3,000 women.”
The organization’s major fundraiser, the 12th-annual Driving Fore a Cure tournament, will take place Oct. 13 at Oglebay Park’s Arnold Palmer golf course. The yearly event alternates between the Palmer course and Oglebay’s Robert Trent Jones course.
The tournaments, which get a good response from golfers, have raised approximately $350,000.
“We are very happy with our turnout. It has grown so much through the years,” Blass said. “We’re very grateful to our community for their support of this endeavor and that we can help the women. It’s a hard disease to go through. We make it easier to preserve their dignity through it all.”
The nonprofit group provides practical garments and other services, free of charge, to women who are undergoing surgery and treatment for the disease.
“I knew from my journey that our hospitals needed products for patients,” Blass said.
After undergoing a mastectomy at Ohio Valley Medical Center, Blass, then age 41, was given a bra that was unattractive, old-fashioned and ill-fitting. She recalled, “I didn’t wear it. I needed a bra that would be able to handle a prosthesis.”
Further testing at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh revealed that she was a carrier of the BRCA-1 (breast cancer 1) gene. Doctors recommended a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. After her second mastectomy, performed at Magee-Womens, Blass said she was given “an amazing camisole” with polyfill material in both cups to mimic the look of breasts. Softee Camisoles became the first product that the organization provided for hospitals to distribute to patients.
“They are so beautiful and preserve the dignity of women when they need it,” she said.
In addition to the camisoles, the group provides “Spirited Sisters” robes for mastectomy patients. “It’s a dignity robe for women going through radiation or chemotherapy if they have a port,” she said.
The robe has a flap that is fastened over a breast or lymph node to allow easier access for a doctor to get to a port to deliver chemotherapy and for a technician to administer radiation. It relieves women from the worry of thinking about what to wear to treatment.
“It (the robe) looks like a long tunic,” Blass said. “They’re beautiful. You can wear them on the street.”
The organization supplies products for breast cancer patients to Wheeling Hospital, Ohio Valley Medical Center, East Ohio Regional Hospital, Weirton Medical Center, Fairmont Regional Cancer Center, Camden Clark Medical Center in Parkersburg, Charleston Area Medical Center, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, Mon Health Medical Center in Morgantown, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Cambridge Regional Cancer Center and Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland.
“We depend on nurse navigators at all the hospitals and word of mouth to get our products and information out,” she said.
Ohio Valley Breast Cancer Awareness also offers Strength For Life, an exercise and strength training program for breast cancer survivors in the Wheeling area. The women have exclusive sessions with a personal trainer at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood. Blass knows the benefits of this training personally. She said, “I had chronic neck pain for two years. I compromised the way I stood while getting all my treatment.”
She started going to a trainer and has been pain-free for six years. She said evidence shows women rarely have lymphedema if they work out and strengthen their upper body while going through chemotherapy. Also, she said when women are fatigued from cancer treatment, workouts help them get more energy.
“It’s hard for women to go through all of this,” she said. “As a committee, we help them go through this process with dignity.”
To register for the golf tournament or Strength For Life or to receive any products, call Blass at 304-639-8424.
“We mail (products) all over country. It’s all free,” she said.
The group also furnishes a snack room at OVMC with healthy snacks, coffee and other beverages offered free of charge to cancer patients getting infusions and family members or friends who take them to the treatment site.