South Park Magazine

Sisterhood of support

Volunteers at The Pink House of Carolina Breast Friends: From left, Mary Dewalt, a cancer survivor; board member Roberta Leppert; and Kathy Goodman, also a cancer survivor.
Volunteers at The Pink House of Carolina Breast Friends: From left, Mary Dewalt, a cancer survivor; board member Roberta Leppert; and Kathy Goodman, also a cancer survivor. dustin peck photography, inc

Kathy Goodman was a strong and healthy 48-year-old when she discovered a lump in her left breast while taking a shower. She had no family history of breast cancer, and was conscientious about getting a mammogram every year. So the discovery came, as it does with so many women, as a complete shock. “There was a lot of fear and uncertainty,” she recalls. A biopsy indicated the lump was cancerous, and within days of the diagnosis she was undergoing chemotherapy. After three months of treatments, the lump was successfully removed during surgery. To ensure all the cancer had been eradicated, doctors put Goodman through another round of radiation treatments. While it appeared the worst was behind her, Goodman said she was still scared and filled with anxiety. That’s when a friend told her about Carolina Breast Friends, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that unites and helps women fighting breast cancer through a variety of programs and outreach efforts. In the spring of 2006, while Goodman was still going through radiation treatments, she decided to go to a meeting the nonprofit had organized at a local church. “From the minute I walked in, I knew I wanted to be part of the group,” says Goodman. “I had no friends or relatives who had gone through this kind of thing, and I needed to connect with other women with similar experiences, and that’s what I found.” Goodman, 53, has been cancer free for nearly six years, but she’s still an active member of Carolina Breast Friends, and now helps mentor other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. “It’s just an amazing group of strong, encouraging women and we’re all looking out for each other,” she says. “It’s truly a sisterhood.” Goodman is one of about 260 Carolina Breast Friends members, says Roberta Leppert, a board member and spokeswoman for the nonprofit. Leppert was friends with the organization’s founder Kristy Adams-Ebel, who started the nonprofit in 2003 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32. Leppert’s friend experienced firsthand the importance of having a supportive social network during her battle with cancer. Adams-Ebel passed away in 2006. But her organization continues to thrive and help hundreds of women. And one of Adams-Ebel’s wishes came true recently with the completion of The Pink House. The two-story house in Myers Park, which opened in May, serves as a supportive respite center for breast cancer survivors, as well as a “one-stop shop” with everything from educational resources, a computer lab, fitness and nutrition centers, as well as studio space for arts and crafts, Leppert says. Just as important, it’s a place where women can get together and have fun, says Goodman, which is crucial to recovery. “We have a great time,” says Goodman. “It’s not always just a bunch of serious talk about cancer. It’s important that women going through this still enjoy themselves and laugh.” The Pink House also offers Inspiration Jars, which are filled with inspirational quotes submitted by members. Each quote includes the member’s name, date of diagnosis, and email address. Recipients of the jars are encouraged to email members if they wish to discuss their breast cancer journey. The jars are given out to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients through the Breast Health Navigators at Presbyterian Hospital and Carolinas Medical Center. New members also receive tote bags filled with items useful to most breast cancer patients. The nonprofit raised money to buy and renovate the grand 2,400-square-foot house on East Morehead Street through fundraising efforts including its annual Pink Boots Ball. Helping out with the cause were organizations like J. E. Dunn Construction Company, which donated $100,000 in materials and labor for renovations of the house, which dates to 1925. Also lending a helping hand was Cathy Austin of Catherine M. Austin Designs, who designed the interior of the light and airy home, and also spearheaded efforts to get the local interior design community to contribute fabric, furniture and professional services. And community support continues with the help of people like Rene Hellams, owner of The Gifted Box in Myers Park, a boutique-style gift shop. The store gives $1 to Carolina Breast Friends for each item sold. Before The Pink House opened, members would meet at various churches and community centers all over the city. Now women have a convenient, centralized home base where they can connect with others and take advantage of valuable resources and services, all free of charge, Leppert says. Goodman says connecting with other women helped her stay positive and strong, and she’s thankful she’s now able to offer support and encouragement to other women. “I only hope I can give back to new members what was given to me when I first started my journey.”

More informationCarolina Breast Friends has numerous fundraising events and parties through the year. October’s events include a social mixer at Ballantyne Village on Oct. 5, a “Pink Party” at Blackfinn in uptown’s EpiCentre on Oct. 14, and Carolina Breast Friends Night at Morton’s on Oct. 21. For details about these events as well as information on how you can volunteer or make contributions: