Perspective: Taryn Gerson of Breaststroke 4 Hope

Read, in Taryn's own words, about her recent experience on a trip to Florida, where she worked with a grass roots organization to bring mammograms to women who were without health insurance.  You can find Breaststroke 4 Hope on Twitter or more information on their website. Great people, doing great things. 

"Over this past weekend I had the opportunity to go and visit with the Women’s Breast Health Initiative.   This organization is one that I felt aligned with Breaststroke 4 Hope as they were a grass roots organization that took their mission to the streets.  The mission of the Breast Health Initiative is to provide women who do not have health insurance free mammograms and tools to help stop this dreadful disease.

When I first started Breaststroke 4 Hope, one of the most important things to me was to find a grass roots organization that truly impacted women to help  fight Breast Cancer.  The funds that we were to raise needed to go to a dynamic organization.   I was driven to see the people behind the organization, how everything was run, and what they were doing to impact women’s lives.   When discussing this with my parents last summer, my Mom had remembered Andrea Ivory from the 2009 CNN Heroes awards.   They had gone to the event not really knowing what to expect, but while every story touched their hearts, there was something about Andrea’s story that my parents had remembered two years later.   I was able to find the Women’s Breast Health Initiative email as well as leave a message on their phone, and not even five minutes later my cell phone rang with a Florida area code.  I answered the phone expecting someone from the office, but to my surprise, I was greeted by the same voice I had just heard minutes ago on the CNN Heroes YouTube video, it was Andrea Ivory.  We talked for a while, as I told her about my non-profit, my goal to run swim-a-thons across the country, and my partnership with Speedo. In turn, she told me all about her organization and the work they were doing.  Something about this phone call just “clicked” within me, and my excitement to raise funds was at full speed.  Andrea Ivory and her husband, Willie met with my parents while they were in LA for the 2011 CNN Heroes awards.  I was still in school at Purdue University and with a staff of one, “ me” , my parents had become my support staff .   We used Skype to allow me to join the meeting and before I knew it, I was planning a trip to Florida to experience The Breast Health Initiative’s   “door to door” outreach program with, along with attending their annual fundraiser.

The morning of my flight was filled with excitement and anticipation as I began my exploration of this Florida based organization.  I landed in Miami not really knowing what to expect, but as Andrea pulled up and got out of her car, I knew this weekend was going to be one I would never forget.  We hit the ground running immediately heading the jewelry store where we picked up jewelry for the silent auction.   As we entered the store Andrea was greeted with smiles, hugs and kisses.  It just typifies what type of person she is and how people truly loving her inside and out.  Our adventure continued with a lunch as we headed to the office to meet her staff.  As I entered the office, the energy was electric and contagious and the staff consisted of young women from all parts of the world.  Although they were pressed for time, the chatter filled the room in preparation for the evening fundraiser.

The Gala was a beautiful; the room was filled with Breast cancer survivors and people who not only supported Andrea, but the entire organization.  Two stories stole my heart that night.  The first was about a woman named Jewel, whose mother had received an informational packet from the Women’s Breast Health Initiative as well as a free mammogram.  Her mother participated in the free mammogram and the results had produced a clean bill of health.  With her positive results, her mother encouraged Jewel to schedule an appointment with The Women’s Breast Health Initiative for a free mammogram.  Her outcome was not as positive as her mothers, as they found a lump in her breast that was that was Breast Cancer positive.  With the help from the Women’s Beast Health Initiative, she was able to get funding to help her fight this disease and log on as a survivor.  What really struck me was that the WBHI is not only reaching those they directly speak to, but they also have a ripple effect in the community.  Everyone within each community knows at least one person who does not have health insurance, and even though we’ll knock on over 400 doors the next day, the message and services reach at least double that amount.  After that amazing story, Willie Ivory, Andrea’s husband went to close the ceremony.  Andrea had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and is now a seven-year survivor of thethis awful disease.  Willie has one of the most amazing hearts, and is her co survivor supporting her through the recovery as well as with her mission.  Sadly, Willie’s  daughter passed away two months ago from breast cancer.  As he spoke I couldn’t help notice that he kept looking in the direction of his son in law, now a widower and where his daughter would have been sitting.  His son in laws eyes filled with tears as he spoke about his daughter and cancer.  Since the very first WBHI Gala, Willie’s daughter had never missed the event.  The story weighed heavy on my heart.   Willie and Andrea had already felt like family and my thoughts turned to my family and what my father’s reaction would have been if I were ever infected with this disease.  As tears streamed down my face, and the story of Jewel and Willie ran through my head, I knew I was at the right place for Breaststroke 4 Hope.

The next morning started at 6 am as I got dressed in my volunteer t-shirt and jeans.  The sky was dark and the rain poured, today was the day of outreach.  We drove to our location, got some much needed coffee, and Andrea started speaking to the volunteers who had come to participate in the outreach program.  Her energy and passion for the project had the room more than ready for the outreach, and soon the boots were on the ground in a these lower economic areas.  As we entered the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous.  I have grown up in a very privileged life style and besides driving by these neighborhoods occasionally on the freeway, I had never stopped nor had I ever knocked on these doors.  Every face that came to the door showed a hesitant look, but with our smiles and energy, we started to deliver our message.  We would finish each message with a smile and reassurance that we cared.  An informational packet’s was given to each women and returned smiles reflected the fact that someone was showing compassion.  We moved from house to house but three homes stood firmly in my memory.  Today, I can still see the three homes with eviction notices posted on their doors.   I peered inside the broken windows to only see children’s toys scattered across the floor.  My heart poured out as this picture was something I had only seen on the news, but to see it in person only brought me to a whole new level of compassion.  The biggest lesson I learned through this whole weekend was that this outreach and organization is so much bigger than just helping women get free mammograms.  Some women had health insurance and some were not over 40 years old,  so they either didn’t qualify or need our services.  But the mere fact that we were there showing compassion and respect was more than enough to make their day.   It also showed that while we weren’t able to help that particular woman, we knew the information would spread throughout the community.

I realize that I found a truly wonderful partner and I am proud to associate Breaststroke 4 Hope with the Breast Health Initiative.  The ability to help women in need and spread the message throughout these lower economic areas is a passion I possess.   Remember………… You know someone…..who knows someone…who knows”      

Breaststroke 4 Hope