Jubilation event honors breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle - October 21, 2017

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

Written by Lu Ann Franklin

MERRILLVILLE — Surviving breast cancer is a journey that takes strength, knowledge and encouragement from family and friends. It’s also a reason to celebrate.

And that’s just what some 100 women enthusiastically did during Friday’s ninth annual Jubilation (Joy-Celebration) fundraiser that honored breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with the disease that affects 1 in 8 women worldwide.

Hosted by the ECIER Foundation and Friends of ECIER, the evening featured a pre- and post-reception at Gamba Ristorante. Sharing stories of their diagnosis, battle and victory over breast cancer became the focus for the entire evening, with many guests wearing pink. The Times Media Co. was among the partners for the event.

“It’s a real privilege to be here,” said Eeta Kurra, M.D., an oncologist who spoke during the pre-networking reception. “We’re all women together. Three of my patients are here. Each of them has their own story. This is a celebration for all of you.”

Ten limousines provided by Epic and Second Nature then whisked groups of eight to 10 women to various venues for an intimate dining party where a breast cancer survivor told her story. Each group was also accompanied by a female student ambassador who is part of the ECIER Foundation program.

Dinner venues included Chicagoland Popcorn, NIPSCO, Asparagus, Methodist Hospitals, Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, Walter E. Smithe, Taste of India, Gino’s Steakhouse, Arthur Murray Dance Studio and Olive Garden.

“I had a mammogram in November 2015 that came up negative,” 41-year-old breast cancer survivor Stacey Smith told the group who gathered at Chicagoland Popcorn for a private dinner catered by U Cook with dessert by Cute as a Cupcake.

However, sharp pains and warm sensations in her left breast took the Gary resident back to her doctor in 2016.

“There’s no family history of breast cancer. I don’t work in a toxic industry. I worked out every day,” said Smith, who is an AT&T employee.

An X-ray mammogram and a biopsy performed at Methodist Hospital Southlake revealed a cancerous growth the size of a golf ball in Smith’s left breast and a mass forming in her right breast.

“I waited to tell my daughter (about the diagnosis) until after her prom. She graduated from high school on June 6 and I had a double mastectomy on June 8,” she told the group.

Because the surgery also removed lymph nodes, Smith said she didn’t require chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Instead she will take the cancer-fighting drug Tamoxifen for five years.

“I have support from my husband and my daughter,” Smith said. “I’m so thankful. I could be on the other side.”

Student ambassador Zharia Dodson joined the group at Chicagoland Popcorn hosted by owners Dwayne and Mogda Walker. A senior at Gary’s Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, Dodson said she plans to study biomedical engineering in college with an eye toward going to medical school to become a trauma surgeon.

After the dinners, attendees were transported back to Gamba for a candlelight reception to honor the survivors. Lifting up the lighted candles in the dimmed room, the women read aloud the poem “A Wing and A Prayer” by Michelle Butler.

“Under the wing of an angel, we feel protected. Through prayers to God, we feel connected,” the poem written in 2013 says. “Go fight and win this battle you didn’t start, On the wings of an angel and prayers from my heart.”