Story last updated at 8:32 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008

High tea highlights breast cancer awareness

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

With Kachemak Bay's shimmering blue water just beyond the Elks Lodge windows, the inside of the lodge was awash in pink Saturday afternoon. The trademark color of breast cancer awareness was reflected in clothing and spark- ling jewelry, ribbons and table coverings, scarves and flower arrangements. Hats in every style incorporated pink in the designs. Each chair in the room was covered in pink. Gifts for attendees repeated the color scheme. Pink roses were presented to each breast cancer survivor.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Tricia Gillam, left, and Eryn Gillam, 8, model their hat-making creativity at Sunday's English High Tea, a benefit for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It was Homer's first English High Tea, an event honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sponsored by Seldovia Village Tribe Health Clinic and South Peninsula Hospital. More than 180 women, and a small number of men, from the southern Kenai Peninsula crowded into the ground floor of the Elks Lodge to learn more about the disease, its diagnosis and treatment, and to lend support to one another.

"It's all just been just amazing," said Emiley Faris of SVT. "Never in my wildest dreams did I dream it would be this big. This is fantastic."

Derotha Ferraro of SPH also was thrilled with the turnout.

"It was really great. It met and exceeded the expectation for the planning group," Ferraro said. "It really was just phenomenal."

The idea for the tea began taking shape when Faris heard Melany Cueva, adult education research specialist for the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, speak at a women's health fair in Seldovia. After fine-tuning the idea with Cueva and SVT staff, Faris took the idea to SPH and details for an English high tea started coming together.

Two Sisters Bakery catered the event, with volunteers serving.

An auction of hats some donated, some specially made for the occasion helped raise more than $2,200.

"That goes to the American Cancer Society," Faris said. "They'll use it for people in Homer, Anchor Point and the surrounding area going for treatment for breast cancer. It's not for treatment, it's for travel, lodging it'll help out that way."

Cueva was one of the guest speakers, as was Dr. Jeffrey Quam of the hospital's radiology department. Both Cueva and Quam stressed the importance of self-care. In addition to describing the mammograms for those unfamiliar with the procedure, Quam offered some sobering statistics. One out of every nine women is diagnosed with breast cancer; three of every 1,000 mammograms result in diagnoses of breast cancer.

"If you don't have your breasts examined, you should have your head examined," Quam said, adding humor to the serious subject.

After the success of Saturday's tea, Faris and Ferraro said plans already are under way to make it an annual event.

"Even though we had great involvement this year from health care groups, our goal is having 100 percent of all health care providers involved in the event," Ferraro said.

With the amount of information to be shared, Faris said next year's tea will last three, instead of two hours.

Between now and then, she issued a reminder.

"There are two medicines each woman should keep in mind: self check and yearly mammograms. They're two of the best medicines every woman can do for herself," Farris said.

In addition, she encouraged the buddy system.

"You pick a person you want to be buddies with and, say, on Nov. 4, you call that buddy and say, 'Hey, have you done your self check? When are you going to have your mammogram?' Hopefully, your friend is calling someone else, kind of like a pyramid," Faris said. "And then you do it again Dec. 4."

Among the males who added their support to the tea was Alex Grant, husband of SVT employee Jocelyn Grant. Grant was an enthusiastic bidder during the hat auction, especially when it came to a pink cowgirl hat he wanted for his wife.

One-year-old Raiden O'Donnell rode on the hip of his mother, Tela, while she modeled hats during the auction.

There in spirit was Ole Olsgard, president of Anchor Point Senior Center Inc. Olsgard bought the last 10 tickets to the tea and gave them to women from the senior center.

"Some of our folks here have gone through breast cancer and are survivors. Others are at an age where it's on their minds," Olsgard said. "It's about awareness. That's why I thought it was important. I wish I could have bought more."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at