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Pink Ribbon

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Mary Ellen Hose, a breast cancer survivor, was one of the honored guests at the luncheon on Thursday. Josette Keelor/Daily

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Al Pilong, president of the Winchester Medical Center, speaks at the Pink Ribbon Luncheon on Thursday. He thanked donors of the Winchester Medical Center Foundation. Josette Keelor/Daily

Events honor breast cancer survivors

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Long before Thursday's Pink Ribbon Luncheon in Warren County, event coordinators knew it was going to be big -- so big, in fact, that they split it into two events -- for the first time offering a Pink Ribbon Dinner the previous night.

The two events honor breast cancer survivors and thank those who have donated to the Winchester Medical Center Foundation, with an evening or an afternoon of good food, inspiring speakers and raffle prizes.

Dawn Funkhouser of Edinburg has been a part of the event since it started six years ago. Now herself a breast cancer survivor, she said she views the two-part event in a different light.

"I was 42 and I was diagnosed last May," she said. "Never suspecting to be involved in this way."

Now a physician's representative for Valley Health's southern region -- Shenandoah, Warren and Page counties -- she used to work for Piedmont Lab and Medical Practice.

"I think it's important that women are really aware and I know that there's a lot of awareness and there's a lot of support," she said.

She's in remission now, following a mastectomy and months of chemotherapy and radiation. "I started in June and ... the last radiation I finished at the end of December."

"It's a great event, you know, it's a lot of fun and it's for a great cause," Funkhouser said.

The Pink Ribbon Luncheon has, until this year, been one of four events that the foundation sponsors throughout the year as a thank you to foundation donors, said Debbie Talley, director of development for the Pink Ribbon events.

The dinner and luncheon both took place at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club north of Front Royal -- the only place in the northern valley large enough to accommodate the turnout each year, Talley said. But the room isn't large enough anymore.

"We had 166 at the dinner last night, and there's probably 260 here today," Talley said on Thursday.

"It's all thank you for our donors, we don't sell any tickets," she said.

Judging by the room full of donors, most of them decked out in pink, Talley and other foundation supporters have reason to celebrate those who have helped aid the breast cancer treatment cause.

The foundation has raised over $1.7 million for cancer programs since its conception, event emcee Chris Mitchell of Q102 announced to the room of luncheon attendees.

"In just six short years. That's amazing, that's absolutely amazing," he said.

The foundation has accepted $11.7 millon in donations since 2004, Kathy Nerangis, secretary of the foundation's board, said in opening remarks.

Money from raffle tickets sold at the event will go toward purchasing comfort bags for cancer patients, Mitchell said, adding that 670 have been disbursed so far.

Al Pilong, president of Winchester Medical Center, welcomed donors, calling the event a way for the foundation to reach out to its supporters and draw them in for a hug.

Donations have helped support Hurst House, which, since being built in 2009, has provided a place of refuge for 5,800 people during cancer treatments, he said.

"We've supported a number of camps as well," Pilong said.

When recognizing Talley, Shannon Gemma, co-chair of the event, said "I don't know what we would have done without her. She kept us on task. ... She was our tireless leader."

Gemma and co-chair Jane Vickers presented Dr. Anita Minghini with a Survivor's Choice Award before welcoming keynote speaker, author Kim Carlos George, a recovering attorney and community activist -- "and more importantly," Vickers said, "a survivor."

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, George already had been through treatments with friends -- women in their 20s.

She said part of her cause is "Proving that life does go on after cancer."

George remembered one friend telling her, "'Went out for a wig and came back with this,' and it was a white mustang convertible."

"It's living in the moment," George said. Survival also is about knowing your limits and admitting when you need help, she said.

"Realizing that sometimes we don't have control," she said. "Realizing that life is about uncertainty. It's sometimes a hard lesson, I mean it's that roller coaster of life that we all go through."

"It made me value each and every day," George said. "Just let it go and live in the moment, and that's what I continue to try to do."

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