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Nevada County event for breast cancer care, prevention

Cory Fisher
Staff Writer
The Union photo/John Hart
John R. Hart | The Union

One of Nevada County’s top fall events, Paint the Town Pink, is gearing up for its seventh annual celebration, which raises funds for the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s efforts toward breast cancer care and prevention.

Considered the region’s premier women’s exposition, this year’s event — scheduled from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the main building of the fairgrounds — boasts a festive night of food, wine, fashion shows with doctor escorts, entertainment, women’s products, a silent auction and more.

The annual event has been an ongoing team effort by the foundation and The Union.

Yet it’s not until all the booths are packed up and the last balloon is taken down that the far-reaching impact of Paint the Town Pink really comes into focus.

“When Paint the Town Pink was created seven years ago, we had no idea how much it would change breast care for our community,” said Kimberly Parker, executive director at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation. “The SNMH Foundation deeply appreciates all who are supporting this year’s event. Over $100,000 has been raised from the previous six years and that support has gone toward equipment for our Women’s Imaging Center and patient care.“

This year’s proceeds are being directed toward the purchase of an automated whole breast ultrasound, Parker added. This technology offers a new screening option for patients with dense breasts. At Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, this amounts to approximately 3,200 patients, or 40 percent of its breast care patients.

According to information provided by the National Institutes of Health, the standard method of breast cancer screening — mammography — can miss many cancers, most notably in dense-breasted women. In a study where testing with an automated whole breast ultrasound was added to routine mammography, breast cancer detection doubled.

In addition to the AWBU, there have been other advances when it comes to breast cancer detection. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, the risk of a woman developing breast or ovarian cancer is significantly increased if she inherits a mutation in the BRCA 1 gene or the BRCA 2 gene.

Therefore, it’s highly recommended that both women and men with a family history of cancer get tested for this potentially harmful genetic mutation.

“About 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives,” cites the Cancer Institute. “By contrast, according to the most recent estimates, 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA 1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA 2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.”

It was these startling statistics that motivated Grass Valley salon owner Meleesa Pellerino to get the genetic testing done in 2010; she had already lost her mother, sister and aunt to cancer.

“As it turned out, I tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation,” she said. “My late sister had been my only sibling. She had three daughters, and I have three sons. When I was diagnosed, I was told I had a 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 60 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. I have a lot of reasons to stay healthy.”

As a preventive measure, Pellerino opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy — similar to the much-publicized surgery performed on film celebrity Angelina Jolie — and an oophorectomy, or removal of her last ovary (another was removed when she was younger). Pellerino says today her risk of getting breast cancer has plummeted to 4 percent and ovarian cancer to 11 to 15 percent, which is similar to the general population.

“At the age of 48, I had a tummy tuck, new boobs — and my life was saved,” she said with a laugh.

As a result of her experiences, Pellerino has become an advocate for genetic testing, and has teamed up with the national organization known as Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowerment. Also known as FORCE, the nonprofit’s mission is “improving the lives of people and families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.”

Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in June, patients now have greater access to genetic testing, and new sites are cropping up around the country. At her booth at Paint the Town Pink this Thursday, Pellerino will share information about FORCE and related resources, including the trailer of a new film on the BRCA gene, “Decoding Anne Parker,” starring Helen Hunt.

In addition, she and two other Grass Valley salon owners will be cutting pony tails for Pantene Beautiful Lengths’ “Pony Up” campaign. The donated hair will help make wigs for the American Cancer Society.

“Paint the Town Pink is a very important event for all of us — who doesn’t know someone who’s had cancer?” asked Pellerino, who also fits cancer patients with wigs at her salon. “My heart loves my clients as though they were my mom or sister. I used to do their hair. The more people are educated, the more lives will be saved.”

Mary Ann Davis, event and sponsorship manager at The Union and TheUnion.com, couldn’t agree more.

“The Union is proud to produce the seventh annual Paint the Town Pink for the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation,” she said. “Breast cancer touches all of us in one way or another, and this event truly makes a difference in the funding for our local breast cancer center. We can celebrate, have fun and raise money at the same time.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.

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