MERRILLVILLE | It was a Jubilation Joy Celebration awash in pink Thursday evening as The Barden Gary Foundation and its partners honored breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with the disease that affects one in eight women worldwide.
Sharing stories of the diagnosis, battle and victory over breast cancer was a central part of the event that drew more than 160 women to the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.
After a reception at the hotel, groups of 10 women were whisked away in style by Avanti Limousines to nine venues located within five minutes of the hotel. Three groups of women also remained at the hotel to dine. Each intimate dining party included a breast cancer survivor who told her story.
Flo Smithe, wife of furniture store chain founder Walter E. Smithe, joined a group of women, including Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, at the Merrillville store. Her husband welcomed guests at the door for the event, which was sponsored by The University of Chicago Medicine Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics.
“I can say this is personal. My wife is a breast cancer survivor, and I have survived prostate cancer,” said Walter E. Smithe Jr., 76. “My grandmother, who emigrated from Poland, used to say, 'One hand washes the other.' We’re neighbors with every woman at this celebration. It’s our duty and our wish to be part of this celebration of life.”
Flo Smithe, 74, said the world has changed since she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer 30 years ago.
“When I was young, nobody talked about breast cancer. It’s refreshing to see women so open and honest about breast cancer,” she said. “Seeing this wonderful organization and community come together to support women who have breast cancer is an inspiration.”
Guests who were brought to Walter E. Smithe Furniture dined in the showroom at a table festooned with pink and black accents, roses and gardenias, prepared by the mother-daughter team of Genny Fagan, associate manager/senior designer of the store, and Christine Swisher, general manager.
One of the guests, Dorothy Warren, of Homewood, said telling stories and encouraging women to seek diagnostic tests are vital, especially in the African-American community.
“In the African-American community, we hid those things. We don’t talk about cancer,” said Warren, who is a survivor of both breast and kidney cancer and a strong advocate for early detection and treatment.
“More African-Americans die from breast cancer than other races,” she said. “Part of it is lack of access to diagnostic care, but many African-Americans have triple-negative forms of cancer.”
That type of cancer doesn’t respond to drugs such as tamoxifen, a medication that prevents inhibits estrogen and helps keep cancer from reoccurring, she said.
“The University of Chicago is doing research and clinical trials,” Warren said. “It’s difficult getting African-American women to participate in those trials.”
After the dinners, attendees returned to the Radisson for a gathering honoring all breast cancer survivors in attendance. Each also received a special gift.
All proceeds from Jubilation help the Barden Gary Foundation provide educational programs and scholarships.