Fifteen years ago, when Pioneer member Kristyn Campbell of Mechanicsburg was just 37 years old, she received a diagnosis that no one wants to receive. She had breast cancer. With three young children at home and her husband soon to be deployed to Afghanistan, she began her battle.
Her successful fight would lead her down a road of helping others and giving back through her involvement with Breast Friends Forever of Champaign County, a support organization for individuals who are at risk or are currently battling breast cancer.
The Campbells moved to Mechanicsburg in 1999. “We didn’t really know many people here,” says Kristyn. “I began to work for a preschool in Mechanicsburg, and it was because of that preschool that so many people learned who I was and my situation and began wrapping their arms around me and my family.”
Kristyn, who grew up in Cleveland, says when meals began showing up at their home from people she didn’t even know, she quickly learned that living in a small rural community was something special.
“I really began to appreciate the deep community aspect of this area and the community’s way of embracing those who live here,” says Kristyn.
It was this experience that ignited her desire to give back.
Educate, empower, encourage, and embrace
It wasn’t long after Kristyn’s diagnosis that she began to get involved with Fashion to a Tea, a 23-year-old fundraising event developed to provide education and support for individuals battling breast cancer.
Kristyn says when she first showed up at meetings, the former chairwoman joked that she would take over her duty as chair someday. While the timing wasn’t right then, it wasn’t long before Kristyn agreed to accept the new role as a way to give back.
Kristyn assumed the role of chair of the Fashion to a Tea event in 2010. In 2013, a spinoff organization formed from that event — Breast Friends Forever of Champaign County, a completely volunteer-run organization backed by the Mercy Health Foundation.
Breast Friends Forever of Champaign County (the name is derived from a former Champaign County Relay for Life team) educates, empowers, encourages, and embraces individuals who reside or work in Champaign County who are at risk for breast cancer and provides services to breast cancer patients in need.
“One of the things [the Breast Friends Forever board] decided is that any time you are going through cancer, if there is something that is inhibiting you from recovering because you’re worried about a bill or you’re worried about something that’s going on in life, come to us,” says Kristyn.
They have helped more than 50 individuals in some way since 2013. They help pay for mammograms, doctor’s visits, cleaning services, prosthetics, and even bills. They also provide comfort bags that include books, magazines, mints, educational materials, and other items.
As an example, Kristyn shared that one woman was concerned about her daughter’s birthday.
“She asked us if we could throw her a birthday party — so that’s what we did,” says Kristyn.
The group isn’t just a financial support group, however.
“We try to be there for all types of support, even just to listen,” says Kristyn. “Most of our members are cancer survivors, and I believe all of our members are very easy to talk to.”
Although Breast Friends Forever holds different fundraising activities each year, including a Mother’s Day bake sale and, new this year, Pretty with a Purpose, the group’s biggest annual fundraiser remains the Fashion to a Tea event.
The event, which was canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has a theme each year. Some of those themes include the Kentucky Derby, Putting on the Ritz, and a masquerade ball. The event features dinner, a silent auction, and a guest speaker who typically comes from the healthcare field. During the event, local high school football teams escort guests, and breast cancer survivors or family members of someone who has lost his/her battle are often invited to model during the event.
Breast Friends Forever typically hands out three $500 blessing checks to individuals in need at Fashion to a Tea each year. This year, thanks to a grant received from the Grimes Foundation, they are able to give out a few more than normal.
Additionally, each year, Breast Friends Forever of Champaign County donates money annually to the Mercy Health Mobile Mammography Unit to assist those who work and live in Champaign County with the cost of a mammogram.
“It’s such a good feeling when you can help people, and they really get something from it,” says Kristyn. “We hope to reach even more people in the future.”
As for the future, Kristyn hopes that the area and individuals they serve will expand and increase to neighboring counties and that they can expand services to include transporting individuals to and from treatments.
“I honestly believe that things happen for a reason — when I got breast cancer at 37, I was like, why? I have these three little kids, this makes no sense to me, there’s no reason for me to have cancer. But honestly, if I didn’t get cancer, I don’t believe I would be in the helping position I am today,” Kristyn says.
Want to get involved or learn more about Breast Friends Forever of Champaign County?
Find them on Facebook or check out their website at https://sites.google.com/view/breastfriendsforever/home.