October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Plant City businesses are stepping up to join the fight against the disease.
Brenda Gunter, owner of Reflections Boutique in Historic Downtown, has organized a collaborative event with other businesses downtown to raise money and awareness of breast cancer beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 11.
“I’ve always done something for breast-cancer month because of being sick myself,” Gunter said. “We lose way too many people from it. Men and women. We need to do something.”
Four years ago, Gunter found out that lumps in each of her breasts were cancerous. Because of the significant history of the disease in her family, she took her doctor’s recommendation to have a double mastectomy, so the cancer would be less likely to return after the lumps were removed.
“The hardest part for me is, I was still young at 53,” Gunter said. “And when they take your breast off, you feel like you’re no longer a woman. But, you’re alive, and that’s the important thing.”
Gunter said daily actions, such as taking a shower or changing clothes, still remind her of that day three years ago, when she returned home after the surgery. She was shocked to see staples and three drainage tubes across her chest.
“It’s something you’ll never forget, because of the scars,” she said.
But, throughout her treatment and now, her remission, Gunter has found solace in the support of other downtown storeowners, who have now agreed to join her for this weekend’s event.
“I don’t know what I would have done without these storeowners,” Gunter said about her years battling the disease. “They did everything they could to help. … Every day, they’d call — ‘What can we do?’”
She said the only way she could repay them is to pray that they never have to go through it, too.
Gunter also has used her business to comfort other women who have battled breast cancer. She has about 20 regular customers who have battled the disease and come to Reflections Boutique for hats, pins, jewelry, decor and other items that feature the pink breast-cancer awareness ribbon.
But, sometimes, instead of material items, Gunter’s customers need emotional support. In those instances, she is happy to lock the door and sit down with them to listen.
After Gunter decided to coordinate a city-wide event for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, her next step was to choose an organization that would receive the donations. She chose the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation based on the percentage of donations it used specifically for research, as well as its policy of using donations for Florida’s cancer patients alone.
“The more you send (funds) elsewhere, the less research and progress we get as a state,” Gunter said.
Representatives from the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation will be at Saturday’s event with an information table, ready to hand out brochures and answer questions.
The awareness event will include special promotions at each participating store, and 10% of the day’s proceeds from each store will be donated to the foundation to provide mammograms. There will also be food and other giveaways.
Gunter also wanted to provide an active way for attendees to symbolically let go of cancer-related thoughts. Each shop will have pink balloons available. Patrons can write a message on the balloons, and then release them into the sky.
“We know it will be a happy and sad day for a lot, including myself,” Gunter said. “But through releasing balloons all day, we hope we can bring peace to some.”
Gunter said her husband, who received a diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer just three weeks ago, will be at the event to offer snacks from his beloved popcorn machine.
“He’s much sicker than I am … but we both fight the same battle,” Gunter said.
Gunter encourages supporters who are unable to come to the event to donate to the foundation directly at FloridaBreastCancer.org.
Panera Goes Pink
Panera also has promotions and plans to support the fight against breast ca
ncer. Until the end of October, customers can purchase a cherry-vanilla pink ribbon bagel, and a percentage of the proceeds will go to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.
Taking it one step further on the road to recover, the café will host Panera Goes Pink Oct. 17. All of the proceeds from pink ribbon bagel sales that day will be donated to Moffitt.
Employees Joyce Bliss and Crystal Santiago are organizing the event. They both have personal connections to the disease. Bliss’ sister and Santiago’s grandmother are survivors.
“It gets us really excited, because we’re giving to the community,” Santiago said. “Any time I can participate or support the cause … it really means a lot to me.”
Bliss is decorating polos and T-shirts for Panera employees to wear and show their support. The shirts are also available for the public at Shear Design.
Love, Hope & Pizza
All Hungry Howie’s locations have a promotion this month called Love, Hope and Pizza. For every large pizza sold, the company will make a donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“If we sponsor, and everybody else sponsors, then there are less victims out there,” said Charlie Sobh, manager of the Alexander Street store.
He said in past years, locations in Florida have raised about $300,000 collectively.
Contact Catherine Sinclair at email@example.com.