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Full Circle: Finding Hope and Support Among Women

Full Circle: Finding Hope and Support Among Women

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content

For Kate Pieper, participating in the Barbara Schmidt Millar Women’s Triathlon seemed like a neat opportunity to be active and support other women. She first registered for the race in 2014.

The Barbara Schmidt Millar Triathlon, shown here in 2018, is open to women 18 years and older. The event also includes a 5K run/walk for women and girls 13 and older. The event benefits the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial fund at the Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Women’s Imaging Center as well as a scholarship for female high school graduates pursuing a career in health care. PHOTO CREDIT ANDREW WRIGHT/LIGHTHAWKPHOTO.COM

“I thought racing in a triathlon would be cool,” she recalls. “And raising money for women in need of breast cancer care was great, too. It seemed like a good cause. I felt sorry for those women.”

Just four short years later, Kate herself became one of “those women” — the many women who have benefited from the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund.

It started with a phone call from a friend.

“I got an early morning phone call from a high school friend,” Kate recalls. “She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was scared and was having a panic attack.”

Katie Pieper

Kate, a licensed marriage and family therapist, supported her friend and talked her through how to cope with what she was experiencing.

“Once I hung up, I realized that I had not done a self-breast exam in a while,” she says. “I literally did an exam right then. And I found a lump.”

Kate called her doctor to schedule an appointment. However, she was told that there was an issue with her private insurance. She had been dropped and was uninsured.

“It was shocking,” Kate recalls. “I had this lump that I knew was something. Yet I wasn’t able to schedule an appointment to seek care. I knew I couldn’t wait a month to figure out what it was.”

At the time, Kate had been training for the upcoming BSM triathlon. Suddenly it occurred to her — maybe they could help.

“I contacted someone with the triathlon and said — I have a lump,” she says. “They said, come in. We can help you.”

The BSM team connected Kate to the Women’s Imaging Center at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where she was scheduled Kate for a mammogram, which confirmed her suspicions. There was something there. She underwent an ultrasound and a biopsy that same day. Soon, she learned her diagnosis: invasive lobular breast cancer.

Kate underwent surgery and radiation. Through it all, the team was there to support her.

“It wasn’t just, here’s a mammogram but you have to take care of everything else,” she says. “It was, ok, come in, meet us at the hospital, we will fill out the paperwork, we will take care of this and that… It was amazing. I was just so thankful. It was honestly above and beyond.”

Kate was connected to Every Woman Counts, a statewide program that provides free screening and diagnostic care for women with breast and cervical cancer. Through the program, Kate’s treatment was fully covered.

Looking back, Kate can see several full circle moments in her cancer journey. And all the moments center on one thing: women supporting women.

“One of my friends told me that being a good friend literally saved my life,” she says. “If my friend hadn’t called me that early morning when she was struggling —knowing that I would talk her through it — I would not have thought about checking my own breasts. And if I had not first participated in this event that was focused on empowering women and supporting women in need — I would not have known to reach out to them when I was in need.”

Kate is now 60 and healthy. She has had no evidence of cancer for four years. She will turn 61 the day before this year’s triathlon. She’s looking forward to racing and has been working hard raising donations for the BSM Memorial Fund.

She is happy to be able to support the organization that supported her not so long ago.

“I think everyone should be a part of the BSM,” she says enthusiastically. “It is such a positive community event. The event is about empowering women, and when we empower women, we empower the world. As women we have so much strength to offer to each other. And the BSM is a great way to share that strength!”



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