Project Pink’d brings the community together to support breast cancer survivors

Even though the month of October celebrates Halloween and the fall colors of orange, gold and brown, pink is the prominent color associated with breast cancer awareness month. Seven years ago, that shade of pink became a little brighter and bolder when Cynthia Sturgeon decided to form an organization to help fill a need within the community for breast cancer survivors called Project Pink’d.

A breast cancer survivor at the age of 40, Cynthia felt there were gaps in the types of services provided in the community. “In my own journey, survivorship was harder than going through treatment,” she said. As she met more survivors and they shared their stories, she realized commonalities existed—you aren’t the same person after surviving breast cancer as you were before. “Often the largest battle is when you’re done with treatment,” Cynthia explained. “It becomes about defining a new normal, redefining your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.”

Another commonality Cynthia discovered was how many people wanted to help with her mission. In an effort to raise funds, she decided to create a calendar with photos of survivors, which they did for several years. But as the needs of survivors grew, and after researching the number of diagnosed women just in Nebraska and Western Iowa, Cynthia realized they needed to incorporate as a non-profit. “No other organization was focused on survivorship, and we knew how important it was to meet that need on a local level, including keeping all funds raised in our local communities,” she explained.

Because thriving is different for everyone, Project Pink’d offers a number of programs. Approximately 60% of the organization’s funds go toward its Pink’d Helping Hand program, which offers financial assistance for basic foundational needs, such as housing payments, utilities, groceries, gas or child care. The Pink’d Beauty program helps survivors feel and look “normal” again by providing wigs, caps, scarves, radiation skin care and lymphedema products during and after treatments.

Last summer the organization launched its Healing Hearts survival kit program. Developed for breast cancer survivors by Project Pink’d survivors, their complimentary chemotherapy, radiation and surgical kits include everything to help make a survivor a little more comfortable during their treatment and brighten their day. Kits are delivered by volunteers to hospitals, oncology, surgical and radiation centers throughout NE and Western IA.

The third component offered is the Pink’d Renewal program to help survivors navigate life in its new form post-treatment. Project Pink’d offers a number of health and wellness workshops and classes, all free to breast cancer survivors, including nutrition/cooking classes, yoga, workshops on managing lymphedema, and its Care to Share Thanksgiving program. Because holidays are stressful, Project Pink’d provides survivors with an afternoon of survivorship, inspirational stories and a fully catered Thanksgiving meal to share with their families so they can celebrate without having to worry about the cooking.

As an extension of its Renewal program, the organization hosts a Dare to Thrive Renewal Retreat. Up to 20 women are accepted annually who are at least one year post-diagnosis. The free, five-month program focuses on helping survivors find their new purpose and live their best life, supporting one another, and how to best help others going forward. After the retreat is completed, the women “Thrivers” are celebrated at the annual Project Pink’d benefit.

This year’s EXPOSED 8th Annual Benefit, which was held in August, included more than 650 guests and raised more than $250,000—a record for the organization. The outpouring of support for survivors was nothing short of overwhelming, with the caring culture of Project Pink’d evident in everything the volunteer-run organization does.

Breast cancer survivor Lora Iossi attended her first Project Pink’d benefit two years ago and said the experience was both inspiring and healing. “This year’s benefit was bittersweet. It was exactly what I needed as I got ready to battle breast cancer a second time. I’ve met so many Thrivers over the past year and am thankful for all that Project Pink’d does in our community to help those who are impacted by breast cancer.”

Many of the women that Project Pink’d helps—approximately 1,000 last year alone—end up volunteering in some form to help spread the word within the community that it’s programs exist. Julie Pabian, another two-time breast cancer survivor, volunteers on the organization’s grant committee, and said Project Pink’d gave her a purpose. “It provided me with a platform to help educate others—female and male survivors—so that they don’t have to make decisions about whether or not to pay bills or pay for their treatment.”

In addition to the dedicated volunteers who work with Project Pink’d, a number of organizations partner with them to ensure a full range of needs are being met for survivors and serve as an extension of their programming. These include Wings of Hope for counseling, Methodist’s Inner Beauty and the Visiting Nurses Association, allowing Pink’d services to reach those in rural communities.

Donations are crucial to keep the mission going, and spreading the word that Project Pink’d is a resource for survivors is at the heart of the organization. Cynthia wants to continue to touch as many survivors’ lives as possible and prefers to measure success by the number of people they’ve touched, rather than measure it in dollars. “Serving survivors is at the forefront of what we do,” she said. Creating a fundraiser at your business or organization that supports Project Pink’d is a great way to help not only raise money but to spread awareness that individuals with breast cancer have access to their services. Cynthia added, “As long as our survivors need us, we will be here.”

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