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Beauty and the Bee

Breast Cancer Is No Respecter of Persons, Says Loudoun Breast Health Network

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Donn Dobkin, Dobkin Photo

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Billy Maykrantz, a.k.a. Bumblebee, leads the Loudoun County Chapter of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, Chapter 105, currently 11 members strong. You’ve probably seen their bikes behind Spanky’s Shenanigans on a Friday or Saturday night. But you may not know about the club’s long-standing commitment to raising money for local charities.

One of those is Loudoun Breast Health Network (https://www.lbhn.org) which has provided sisterhood, sustenance and even style to local women battling breast cancer since 2007.

Its Pink Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for medical expenses, prescriptions, rent or mortgage, car payments, utilities and groceries – more than $572,000 since its founding in 2012. Its New Beginnings program offers support services including free wigs, hats, scarves, mastectomy bras, support calls and partnerships with local community resource providers. Its educational efforts have taken it to countless local schools educating students about breast cancer detection and treatment.

One of its core tenets? Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate: by age 80, one in eight women will be diagnosed with it, and the financial burden of fighting the disease can be devastating. The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that “financial toxicity” has been diagnosed as one of the side effects of cancer treatment. Says Chantel Smith, LBHN Board Member and cheerleader for the Boozefighters’ charitable efforts says, “Our goals are to keep our clients focused on their health and treatment and to try to alleviate some of the financial stress that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis.”

At the Boozefighters' annual “Cure for Cleavage” benefit in June, Bumblebee told us that his mother was a breast cancer survivor, as is his ex-wife, but added that everyone he knows has been touched by it in one way or another. Harkening back to the foundation of the club after WWII, he says members originally were bonded by the mantra to “live life to its fullest.” But besides that, “We also find that it's important to give back to the community; we have a symbiotic relationship. And so, events like this are what we do to try to help people. In my chapter, it's very important to stay grassroots. We're the Loudoun County Chapter and I like to make sure that the money that we do generate for people stays in our county. That’s why Loudoun Breast Health Network is such a great organization for us to support. I know that every dollar we raise goes to a person who needs it the most.”

The benefit began with a Poker Run, where bikers collect playing cards at each of five stops around the county patronizing businesses who support the cause along the way. Bikers then reconvene at Spanky’s where winning hands win prizes and there’s a raffle of donated gift baskets. Both Bumblebee and Chantel had a giggle about the image of Boozefighter bikers approaching local golf courses for raffle donations – “We’re not typically your door-to-door type of people,” admits Bumblebee – but says the club’s business ties have grown with its reputation for giving back. The group is itself a 501(c)4, or non-profit membership organization, but all the money the club raises goes to charity. “We’re on target to surpass $100,000 donated through the Cure for Cleavage Event alone over the years,” he adds.

Among LBHN Board members, breast cancer is personal. Misty Simon, a cardiac nurse, had it in 2007 when she was a young mother, and now stewards the Pink Assistance Fund, for which there’s no income pre-requisite for aid. Chantel lost her sister to breast cancer and now runs the New Beginnings program, helping breast cancer patients feel beautiful with the aid of new wigs and other items. Margo Fallon is also a survivor we met in May in our Strong and Beautiful issue.

But it was Dr. Virginia Chiantella, the organization’s founder, that offered the most perspective about the organization and its reason for being. When she arrived in Loudoun in 1989, she was the county’s only female general surgeon, so she began to be consulted by more and more women with breast cancer. By the mid-1990s, with advances in genetic and imaging diagnostics, “it just got more and more complicated and I felt like I couldn’t do it justice if I weren’t focused on it full time. I stopped doing everything else around 2000. But if you had told me when I was in medical school that I would have an ultrasound in my office the size of a laptop and that I'd be talking about genes with people, it would have been like telling me that I was going to go to the moon for the weekend.”

In the early years, surgeons only had one response to the detection of breast lumps – they did lumpectomies, tested the tissue for cancer and moved directly to a mastectomy under the same anesthetic if it was malignant. Treatment now is much more nuanced, offering many treatment options, she says. She now provides care and consultations for the entire spectrum of benign breast concerns, breast cancer risk assessments, in-office ultrasound evaluations and biopsies, and top of the line breast cancer surgical care.  With mammography and ultrasound on site, and now CT scans at the Lansdowne location, along with 3 outstanding medical oncologists, radiologists and now a second surgeon Dr. Claire Edwards, her practice offers a leading “one-stop shop” for breast care patients.

With better care, come many more survivors of the disease and she's encouraged when the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for a Cure draws thousands of participants. "The first time we went, there were five of us in a church van," she recalls. But she notes that donations to the Komen Foundation support research efforts to find a cure for breast cancer. “Meanwhile, we have people in our community that really need help... There’s financial toxicity that goes along with breast cancer treatment, not just hoping that your insurance pays for your treatment, but the financial effects of not being able to work.”

The initial thrust of the Loudoun Breast Health Network was to bring people together who were undergoing treatment for the disease, then followed with raising money to help them pay their bills while they were undergoing treatment, Dr. Chiantella relates. At around the same time, the group began lobbying to have an actual breast center in the hospital. She traveled to multiple states to study their programs and got all the way to designing a floor plan when the hospital was sold and the local Cornwall project initially died, though it was later reborn in Fairfax as the Sharp Cancer Institute.

“My conviction was always that Loudoun County is a wealthy community and there shouldn’t be a two-tiered system for people who suffer from this disease. We’re all in this together,” Dr. Chiantella adds. She explains that breast cancer diagnoses are rising and the age of people being diagnosed is falling. “I saw 163 new breast cancer patients last year compared with 112 the year previous, and around 90 the year before.” Whether the increase marks a significant trend or relates more to the success of her practice, she’s not sure, but strongly supports LBHN’s educational efforts to ensure early diagnoses and treatment.

Obviously, the board works tirelessly to engage a wide range of local businesses – not just bikers, though the Boozefighters’ loyalty over the years has won a special place in Chantel’s heart. For example, Loudoun County Public Schools high school students and one elementary school raised $31,000 for the organization last year. They've held "Pink Outs," for sports games, and sold t-shirts through DECA. "It's great to see these kids really take such a passion for it. My son came home to surprise me over the weekend for Mother's Day. And it was so great to see him in his pink t-shirt that he got and paid for with his own money in high school. He's wearing it six years later," says Margo. October is the traditional month for raising awareness of breast cancer and Nanette Parsons, business owner of Best Rack Around, typically hosts a sale that month as a benefit for the organization.

There are countless other examples. To be alerted to other activities, follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LoudounBHN, or Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/loudounlbhn. 

“My conviction was always that Loudoun County is a wealthy community and there shouldn’t be a two-tiered system for people who suffer from this disease. We’re all in this together.” Dr. Victoria Chiantella

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