Think Pink Gala collects funds for local breast cancer support

When Leigh Anne Lawrence first felt pain under her arm, she took some medication and shook it off. 

But, later that night when she accidentally brushed her hand against a lump in the same area she had felt the pain, she decided not to wait to determine whether the concern was more serious. 

After a mammogram, ultrasound, scans and a biopsy, it was confirmed the Lawrence had breast cancer - ductal carcinoma. The process of just getting to a diagnosis felt long and stressful, painful and scary, she says. 

But thankfully, Lawrence had the intense and unwavering support of her family, friends and many community members to lift her, comfort her, carry her, and continue driving her forward. 

Lawrence spent almost a full year enduring surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and she tackled each one as it came. 

From the beginning of her cancer journey, Lawrence says she knew she wanted to create something meaningful out of the experience. She wanted to be able to help support other local women who are also fighting breast cancer.

"As my best friend and my brother and I were sitting at chemo one day, we knew that we wanted to give back because when I went through my own journey, the support we had was something we had never imagined," Lawrence says. "We wanted to give back to the community that had given so much to us. And, I realized as I got further into my journey that a lot of women don't have that support."

She recalled how thankful she was to have a job that allowed her to be flexible and work around doctors appointments and medical treatments. And she remembered how helpful it was to have a network of supporters to drive her to treatments, bring her dinners, give her get-well cards, and so much more. 

"The support I have received from family and friends and the community has been incredible," Lawrence says. "When I went back to work or the post office or anywhere, people I didn't even know would say, 'We're praying for you,' and it was just so amazing.

"I love Clark County, and I wanted to do something for Clark County. I wanted to be able to give back, and I wanted to bring awareness." 

With the help of some of those same supporters, Lawrence has built the Think Pink Gala, an event to be held annually during breast cancer awareness month in October. The inaugural gala will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Downtown Springfield. 

"The event is geared toward bringing awareness to breast cancer and offering support to women dealing with it and to help them navigate the journey," she says. "We want to support them, support their families and everyone around them."

The gala will include Dr. Colleen Alexander as a guest speaker who will talk about the care for women fighting breast cancer and the challenges they may face to get the care they need. 

The event includes speakers, dinner, drinks, a raffle, fundraising games, and more. 

With support from the Mercy Health Foundation, the gala was founded to help eliminate barriers to breast cancer prevention and treatment. Funds raised from the gala will be distributed to the Springfield Cancer Center, the Clark County Breast Cancer Endowment Fund, and screening for mammograms and the mobile imaging center.

"Also through the event, I wanted to be able to share my journey and that there is hope when you get this diagnosis," Lawrence says. 

Before her diagnosis, Lawrence says she had planned to get her annual mammogram, but that she got busy and time got away from her. And then six months went by between when she should have had the scan and when she found the lump. 

"I wish I had taken time to make that 30 second phone call and made the appointment. I may have saved myself six months of chemo if I had gone to an appointment. I'll never know," she says. "You have to take care of yourself because if you're not taking care of yourself, you might not be here to take care of your kids.

"And, it's so important that if you have those gut instincts to go with them. If you're doing self-checks like you're supposed to, you will notice if something this off. It's good to be proactive and advocate for yourself with the doctor - if they're pushing something aside you have to say what you want done."

The lump Lawrence felt was in a hard spot to find, and had she not kept advocating for her own health, it may have been overlooked, she says. But, she knew her body and knew something wasn't right, so she kept asking questions to get the answers she needed. 

The support of her mother and her best friend, Suzanne, she says, were also key in her journey. 

Lawrence says having her mother at her appointments to hold her hand and her friend Suzanne to take in all the details from doctors and ask all the questions were priceless pieces of her care. She also shared her gratitude for other friends who stayed overnight, brought her lunch, and worked remotely with her from her home so she wouldn't be alone.

Though Lawrence is past her treatments, she says she will be monitored closely with blood work and will be considered in remission when she reaches the five-year mark. 
"There was never a time that I was ever alone in this, and I think that's so important to know - how even if you feel like you're not really doing something to help someone, you're still helping just by being there," she says. "I personally can't imagine having to watch someone else go through this. I'm glad I'm the one having to go through this part, and I didn't have to watch someone I love having to go through it. I don't think I could watch my mom or my best friend go through it."
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