By Kaylee LaRocque
NAS Jacksonville Public Affairs Officer
Nearly 100 employees and patrons of the NAS Jax Navy Exchange (NEX) decked out in pink attire attended a breast cancer awareness event Oct. 13. The guest speakers for the event were First Coast News anchor and creator of Buddy Check 12 Jeannie Blaylock and Naval Hospital Jacksonville Breast Care Coordinator Nikki Levinson-Lustgarten.
NEX General Manager Marsha Brooks kicked off the event by welcoming the crowd. "Thank you all for coming and being part of this important event to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month," said Brooks, who recognized those involved in coordinating the event, including a Battle of the Bras decorating contest.
She then introduced Levinson-Lustgarten who offered valuable information about how to conduct self-examinations, new 3D imaging mammogram machines at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, options and procedures offered after a diagnosis of breast cancer, and the importance of having a support system.
"No one should have to deal with breast cancer alone. We have a wonderful support group at the hospital called Ribbons and Roses Breast Cancer Support Group which can make a world of difference in the journey to fight this disease," said Levinson-Lustgarten before introducing breast cancer survivor, Grace Brown who told the audience about her continuous fight against the disease.
"When I was first diagnosed 21 years ago, I went through all the procedures and fell into a deep depression. No one around me understood what I was going through. Eventually, I went back to work and the cancer went away. But then it came back and I fought again. I've been through biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. I have the scars and have lost my hair twice," said Brown.
"I'm a two-time survivor, but I'm still here. It's been hard but I also have a great support system through Naval Hospital Jax. My advice to those battling this disease is to do what's right for you throughout the process. It's your personal journey."
She also stressed the importance of self-exams. "Everyone should be doing these exams because breast cancer can affect anyone at any age, including men. And a lump doesn't always show up on a mammogram," said Brown.
Ethyl Beckwith, a 14-year breast cancer survivor, also praised the support group at the hospital. "I was 63 when I was diagnosed so I decided to have a mastectomy. Everyone goes through the process differently but through the support group, it's been nice to talk to others who have gone through what I have," she said.
Creating Buddy Check 12, 25 years ago, continues to keep Blaylock advocating breast cancer awareness. She started the program after one of her best friends passed away from the disease at 29. Today, Buddy Check 12, is known around the world. The program is simple - get a buddy, mark your calendar, do a self-exam around the 12th of each month and remind your buddy to do their exam.
"Your odds of getting breast cancer drastically increase as you get older but if you catch it early, your odds of staying alive are phenomenal - more than 90 percent. So that shows how important it is to do self exams every single month," said Blaylock.
"Check from your bra line up to your neck and under arms for anything that feels unusual. You know your own body and if something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to get help."
The event concluded with many of the women relating their personal stories about how Buddy Check 12 saved their lives.
Guests were invited to take home Buddy Check 12 kits and the Naval Hospital Jax Wellness Center provided information about breast cancer and resources available.
For more information about the Naval Hospital Jacksonville Ribbons and Roses Breast Cancer Support Group, call 542-7857.