Kathy Schwoch firmly believes that every woman ought to have routine mammography screenings. So she and a group of friends have done something about it, staging an event that has raised nearly $40,000 in the last four years to help other women get mammograms as well.
Schwoch learned the importance of mammograms the hard way. During a routine screening in 2004, she was diagnosed with Stage 2-3 breast cancer in two places. She had felt nothing at all in her own self-exams and feels extremely fortunate to have beaten the disease.
"I think all the funds and the people working toward a cure for breast cancer are wonderful," she said. "But in the meantime, one in eight women will get breast cancer, so women need to know the importance of mammograms. And if they can't afford these screenings, we need to help them."
Schwoch lives in Dorchester, Wisconsin, and is a first grade teacher in nearby Colby. She knows a lot of people in that area, and the second person she called after her diagnosis was a 20-year friend, Connie Skubal, a nurse at Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield. Skubal thought she was just supporting a friend, but as they started talking about it, they realized they needed to put together a fundraiser. That's how Pink Heart of Wisconsin got started.
"We live in a rural area," Skubal noted. "We have a lot of farmers and people who don't have good insurance that covers mammograms. But breast cancer is such a preventable disease. We wanted to raise money so people who couldn't afford it could get one."
Schwoch came up with a unique idea for an event. "A breast cancer event at a winery," she proposed. "Why not?" She knew Tom and Sheri Roland, who had opened a charming country business called Munson Bridge Winery near Withee, Wisconsin, not far from Dorchester and Colby. The Rolands agreed to make their property available for one Saturday in the fall. With a bit of organizing, the group put together the Breast Cancer Health Fair. Originally intended as a one-time event, "It just kind of blossomed. A big part of it is we had so much fun with it, but it's grown into something none of us expected," according to Skubal.
Much of the organizing was largely assumed by Susie Jecevicus, a cosmetologist in Colby. She's another long-time friend of Schwoch who is also an 18-year breast cancer survivor. "That's why I was very interested," Jecevicus said. "A mammogram saved my life, too."
The event itself is a relaxed combination of raffles, wine tasting, live music and vendor displays. Visitors can also tour Marshfield Clinic's Mobile Mammography Unit that travels regularly to rural locations throughout Wisconsin.
One of the things that has amazed Jill Kurszewski, annual giving and special events coordinator for Marshfield Clinic, is how the Breast Cancer Health Fair has spawned other fundraisers. "These other events have started just because they have seen what Kathy's group is doing," Kurszewski said. "They may have read an article in the paper or met her at one of our volunteer fundraisers meetings. I think at least four other fundraisers have occurred because of Kathy's impact."
Country music artist and songwriter Karen Taylor Good, a Grammy nominee, recorded a special song, "Pink Ribbon," and allowed Pink Heart of Wisconsin to sell special videos of it.
The money from all of these efforts goes to the Catherine Fonti Angel Fund, which provides assistance to Marshfield Clinic patients who are unable to pay for mammograms and other breast cancer prevention services. Dozens of people volunteer on the day of the event, but Schwoch would like to see others step into planning and organizing roles.
Contact the Marshfield Clinic Health System Foundation for more information or to help.
1000 North Oak Ave - 1R1
Marshfield, WI 54449-5777