Pink Ribbon Luncheon: Cancer survivors: Dealing with the other side

Oct. 26—Dealing with the medical side is only part of challenge facing those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Another part is the emotional, mental and spiritual side that often accompanies a diagnosis that can linger on even after successful treatment of the illness.

That's what led cancer survivor Sarah McLean and her husband, Steve, to form Project31.

They formed it with the goal of helping women who find themselves struggling with those issues that Sarah McLean said can affect their relationships, marriage and their ability to get back to life.

Approximately 200 McAlester-area residents and visitors gathered Thursday at the First United Methodist Church in McAlester, where the McLeans served as featured speakers for the annual Pink Ribbon Luncheon to support Oklahoma Project Woman.

Oklahoma Project Woman is a statewide 501© 3 nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive breast health care to Oklahomans with no insurance and limited financial resources.

Since the founding of Oklahoma Project Woman in 1998, more than 69,000 Oklahomans have been helped by the organization, said Pink Ribbon Luncheon Emcee Lori Few.

Sarah McLean spoke of how she came to found Project31, based on how she felt following her second breast cancer diagnosis. She said it proved challenging to her and her husband.

Even after a successful treatment, it can sometimes be difficult to get back on-track, she observed.

"You are left to put this brokenness back together," Sarah McLean said.

She recalled the experiences of herself and her husband.

"We had nobody to talk to," she said. "We didn't know this was a normal part of the process."

She told of how her husband and children were affected by what she was going through.

"It wasn't just me," she said. "It was him and our children as well."

Steve McLean related how they were only 25 and had been married a short time when Sarah received her first cancer diagnosis.

"At 25, it was hard to understand," he said.

Sarah told how she eventually felt called by God to form a cancer support group, which ultimately led to her forming Project31, which allows cancer survivors and those receiving treatment to meet with others who are going through the same thing.

"I felt like God was giving me an opportunity," she said.

Steve McLean said they would like to have Project 31 in McAlester.

"We want to be in this community too," he said, noting the community support shown for cancer survivors and those receiving treatment as evidenced by attendance at the Pink Ribbon Luncheon.

"You guys have an amazing community here," he said.

McAlester's Pink Ribbon Luncheon has been ongoing for 23 years. The late Donnita Wynn — the former District 18 district attorney and Pittsburg County special judge — led the drive to get the event started in McAlester.

Frances Lerblance told those attending the Pink Ribbon Luncheon about a recent fundraising event, called Boots, Boobs and Booze.

She recalled how Evans McBride had called her over after last year's event and said "Frances, this is great. I can help you make it better."

Lerblance responded by seeing that Evans and Amy McBride were named chairs of this year's Triple B fundraiser, held in late September at Downtown 312.

"We raised, last I heard, over $23,000," Lerblance said. "When he said he would make it bigger and better, he was not kidding."

As the project neared its conclusion, 26 women who attended the event were handed a flower and recognized as cancer survivors.

Ashley Lerblance and other survivors addressed those attending the Pink Ribbon Luncheon.

"I love it that the number of survivors grows each year," she said.