Their dynamic events like The Avera Race Against Breast Cancer and Paint the Night Pink draw plenty of attention, but it’s the compassion-in-action behind the scenes that makes The Avera Pink Ladies noteworthy.
We spoke with Janice O’Connor, who joined The Pink Ladies in 2008. The Sioux Falls native shares her insight on The Pink Ladies’ mission, motives and maneuvers that make up this great group whose focus is to help anyone – patient, family member, or friend – who is fighting cancer.
Question: How would you describe the mission of your group?
Answer: We serve as the hands and feet of God – we truly feel we are doing his work by reaching out to those who need our help. We raise funds to help patients in various ways. Other times, our work is to listen, to be there for folks who need someone to talk to about what they face. I think our most important role is to be that support system for patients and their families. Raising awareness is another key part we play.
Q: Who makes up The Pink Ladies?
A: We are a sisterhood of cancer survivors, and we really reach out to folks in an effort to show that as survivors, we are your wives, friends, sisters, aunts, grandmothers – we are diligent in showing that cancer can happen to anyone. People often think it’ll happen to someone else – yet that someone else might surprisingly be you.
Q: What are some of the actions The Pink Ladies take to help folks facing cancer?
A: Funding from events like the Avera Race Against Breast Cancer provides wigs for anyone who needs them, and we remind people that while we focus on breast cancer, we are hoping to help anyone who has a cancer diagnosis. We, of course, work hard at our events and we try to put a positive face on those events, because the money raised – it really helps so many. People might not know it, but all the money we raise – and the Race really does well – stays local and helps with BRCA testing, genetic research, support groups and fitness programs, many programs and services, like nurse navigators and integrative medicine at Avera.
Q: How do people who need help come into contact with your organization?
A: We are very blessed because nurses, navigators and social workers know about us and recommend us to new patients they see. Some come to us because they have attended our events or seen our advertising. Others might come across us on the web. No matter how they get to us, the message is the same: we want to help you and your family. Many cancer physicians also know about us and tell their patients who we are, what we do.
Q: We assume there are some lesser-known aspects of the group’s work as well – what are some behind-the-scenes things you do that perhaps the public doesn’t see?
A: When we receive requests, a lot of times it comes down to whether or not we know a person who seeks the help. If it’s a case where one of us knows the person or their family, we’ll reach out to them. In many cases, it will be a stranger. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people say “Oh, I have seen your face on the bus!” We look to help anyone. We want to be the face of hope, but we know some folks are more private than others. I know for me it might just be a text to someone to let them know we have them in our thoughts and prayers – that’s how I show the face of hope.
Q: It must be challenging, at times, to provide that brave, supportive voice for those who face the daunting fear of their diagnosis. How do you help so many when it can be so hard?
A: For many of us, it’s all about the support we received when we were afraid. I had so many people help me – and help my family – when I was diagnosed. So we become stronger as you help more people and reflect on those who helped you. It is gratifying, but we have lost friends, lost members of our group to recurring cancer. It can be heartbreaking, but as people who know how horrible it can be, we know how being there for someone else can really change things. That’s our goal: to let anyone facing cancer to know they’re not alone. Their family isn’t alone either – we all go through the process differently, and so too do the members of our families. The Pink Ladies are all about compassion – we received it, and now we want to do the same for others in need.