Building a Pink Army
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – Trish Mrozek is no stranger to breast cancer or the positive effects of a strong network for those diagnosed. That’s why Mrozek is working hard to build a “Pink Army” in the community to bring awareness to the importance of a support system for those afflicted with the disease.
“I was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer eight years ago,” explained Mrozek.
“I had taken care of my mom through her breast cancer medical journey. I stepped away from my career, moved her into my house, transported her for medical appointments, oversaw her medications, and made sure whatever she had a taste to eat I would do and bought her new clothing, whatever to keep her spirits up. But the one thing I would say is that women who go through a breast cancer diagnosis lose control mentally and physically. And they need to have unconditional support.
“Like I told her, don’t worry about your medical appointments. I will be there. So, you know, that’s the main thing with anyone who goes through a medical journey like that is you have to have somebody who just unconditionally steps forward on a daily basis; not just transporting one day a week to go for medical appointments, but somebody who’s actually going to be there to talk to the doctors. And then there’s a tremendous responsibility to do that medical research, because like in my mother’s case, she was just in shock when the diagnosis happened.”
The Aspirus Foundation said that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, accounting for one in three cancers diagnosed in women in this country. The lifetime risk of having breast cancer is 12.9 percent or one out of eight. The amount of invasive cases increase by eight times between those under 40 and those over 65.
“Suddenly, it becomes like a whirlwind, even though I’m a very organized, positive person,” Mrozek said.
“The movement of everything happening was unbelievable. I had the mammogram, the ultrasound on Friday. I was told to come back to the hospital on Monday.
“Monday when I had the MRI, it had grown an inch, so it was fast, it was aggressive.
“What continued to happen – what I call shellshock whirlwind of events – is I got put into surgery to have a port put in that same day. It was like, what is happening?”
That started five months of weekly chemotherapy and later a radical mastectomy.
“Fortunately, I had a strong network,” Mrozek said, noting that her families and especially her significant other, Ken, were by her side to support her.
“The first time when the staff walks in with a shield over their face, headgear, protective garments, rubber gloves; it’s a very scary feeling, because they are being protected but they are putting that into your system,” Mrozek recalled.
And that mental affect on the patient is just as significant as the physical.
“The one thing that I’d like to say is patients really go through the journey physically, but as well as emotionally, and that goes along with their support persons as well. So having that positive support system for not only the patient, but for the family members as well is really important,” said Amanda Boreen, Marshfield Clinic patient navigator.
“Just being able to lend a listening ear or maybe suggest things that could be helpful such as, getting them the mail or cooking a meal or bringing over an activity, but just also that reminder that you are there for support. Sometimes the patient doesn’t want to inconvenience someone else by asking for help or as women were used to taking care of, maybe a majority of the household things…So, if someone’s able to help out a little bit for them, it can really mean one less thing for them to do. They can feel good about that and rest and relax, and then the support person can feel good, that they’re able to help out as well.
“Just keeping things positive.”
Mrozek added that life becomes different after a breast cancer diagnosis, so mentally you never look at things the same. While she is now in remission, she wants to go out and affect change and awareness, by enacting the community, or what Mrozek refers to as the “Pink Army.”
“I want to create an ongoing awareness in the community,” Mrozek added.
This includes supporting a program with the Stevens Point Police Department
The Pink Badge Awareness Campaign
“Next year, their campaign of breast cancer pink badge awareness is going to be done in a very big way to where all the 46 police officers in the Stevens Point Police department are going to have the opportunity to wear the pink badges,” Mrozek stated.
Through her awareness campaign and philanthropy, Mrozek is assisting Police Chief Bob Kussow and the Stevens Point police department with the pink badge program.
“I have an officer here whose wife is battling breast cancer. And we actually hand out ribbons to all of our officers for the month of October. And what I wanted to do as the chief was to show a little bit more support. So I approved pink badges,” Chief Kussow explained.
“The one thing though, is they’re very expensive, and the officers have to buy them themselves. And then, 10 percent of the proceeds go to breast cancer awareness and research. And so 10 of us purchased our own to represent the police department for breast cancer month.
“And when the news got out that we purchased 10 of them ourselves. We had Trish come forward who obviously is a survivor of breast cancer, and she actually wanted to donate money to purchase 36 more, so that every single officer next year can actually wear a pink badge to represent breast cancer month for October.
“And what our plan is, the officers that purchased them can actually keep theirs and keep them for retirement for a shadowbox. And then, what we’ll do is every October the 36 people that didn’t purchase, we’re just going to have them sign them out for the month of October and then return them so we can keep track of them.
“Hopefully it will open up a dialogue where individuals will take a second and go in and get tested and try and get this thing caught early. It’s already brought out people that are wondering about our pink badges, so it gives us an opportunity to just disclose to them.”
Which is just what Mrozek is working toward.
“The awareness needs to be there to remind all women to watch for symptoms signs but also family members, whether it’s a husband, significant other, daughter, son, to remind the women in their life to get breast cancer exams and also if they see a change in the women in their life, health-wise, to tell them to go in for a checkup,” Mrozek said.