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St. Mary's hosts Ladies in Pink

Luncheon
Oct. 10, 2012 @ 06:51 AM

HUNTINGTON — As Dr. Erica Barringer put it, women are stellar when it comes to taking care of other people, such as their children and their aging parents. They go and go, and if they're guilty of leaving anything off their to-do lists, it's often taking care of themselves.

So on Tuesday, St. Mary's Medical Center hosted an event which gave women a chance to slow down, even for just an hour or so, and think about their own health. St. Mary's 7th annual Ladies in Pink Luncheon took place Tuesday afternoon at Guyan Golf & Country Club, featuring not only a healthy lunch and a shopping parlor with jewelry and other items for sale, but also a chance to hear from some speakers who know a thing or two about women's health.

Keynote speakers at the event included Barringer, a family practice physician at HIMG, and two local breast cancer survivors, interior designer Deborah Gibson and attorney Amy Herrenkohl, both of whom thanked their medical teams and support staff at St. Mary's who helped them through the life upheaval that is breast cancer.

The event raises money for the St. Mary's Pink Ribbon Fund, which provides mammograms to local women who are uninsured or underinsured.

"I am grateful to (St. Mary's), and the thought that someone might not be able to afford a mammogram or a screening is simply unacceptable," said Herrenkohl, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 6. She told the audience she didn't have the typical symptoms. It was just a rare feeling, which became a tingling, which prompted her to action.

When she got her mammogram, she looked at the screen.

"On that screen was a huge, white explosion," she said. "In that second, I knew that my life had changed."

She foresaw the coming months and how her life -- a well-planned out map of raising her family of three children and working at her private law practice -- would give way to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She didn't have time for that.

She told the women who had gathered at the luncheon -- most of whom had donned their pink for the occasion -- about how she tried to remain calm after looking at the screen, and how the technician sensed her need to speak to the doctor.

"I didn't want to talk to the doctor. I wanted him to cut it out," she said. "I needed it to go away. ... For the first time in my life, I had no plan. I couldn't put the case together. I had to wait.

"I am very grateful to my doctors and their staff because within a week, I had a plan. You can do anything in life when you have a plan."

Gibson was the first woman at St. Mary's who was diagnosed with breast cancer with the hospital's new 3D mammography, a technology that catches cancers other equipment would miss, said Anne Hammack, manager at St. Mary's Breast Center.

This new technology is called digital tomosynthesis and uses high-powered computing to convert digital breast images into very thin slices to create a 3-D mammogram. Radiologists can therefore see even dense breast tissue in clearer detail.

It was also Gibson who, as an interior designer, had designed the decor for the Breast Center nine years ago, before she became the first of four women diagnosed at St. Mary's since April whose cancer would not have been found without the new 3D device.

Fighting breast cancer is similar to interior design in that it takes a whole lot of people coming together, said Gibson, who has a horse farm in Salt Rock and a grown son just married.

"I've learned that it takes a lot of people to save one person's life," she said, wearing a pink scarf over her head for the event. From the woman she first talked to when she stepped up to the window at the Breast Center, to her nurses, to Hammack, to her doctors -- all have helped her through the experience in their own way, she said.

She offered some advice.

"Get a mammogram. Try the (new 3D) machine," Gibson said.

With the Pink Ribbon Fund, there's no reason any woman who needs a mammogram can't get one, Hammack said.

Barringer offered some advice as well. Along with getting to the doctor to get screenings, take advantage of free screenings offered at health fairs, she said. And when they do have a doctor's visit, women should bring a list of concerns or questions they have about their own health, and if they don't understand as the doctor rattles off names of prescriptions and medical-speak, ask them to explain it, she advised.

"Go to somebody you understand," she said.

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