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Someone you know has breast cancer - the second most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women.

Think of eight women you work with, socialize with, worship with. Statistics say one of them will develop a tumor in her breast. Statistics say of those who do, one will die every 13 minutes. Startling information, frightening facts, disturbing numbers - details to be responded to intellectually and then promptly relegated to shadowy corners of the mind where they will not be so likely to distress.

 

Until that eighth woman turns out to be someone you love - and the reality takes on bold and forbidding contours. That's what happened to Bill Simrell and his family.

Breast cancer ceased to be simply the whispered cause of death of Simrell's paternal grandmother - the dreaded "disease that women get" that took the life a mother still raising six sons and daughters in 1923 - and suddenly became much more immediate, much more personal and much more devastating.

This time the diagnosis came to the young mother of two preschoolers, the young wife of a local businessman, the young daughter of Simrell's best friend.

The eighth woman was Mrs. Tab (Beth Cartwright) Ross.

"I've known other women in my lifetime that have gone through treatment for breast cancer, but this was my best friend's little girl - the same little girl that grew up with our children, the same little girl that went on family vacations with us. I'd heard breast cancer only happened to older women and Beth is just in her mid-30s," Simrell says.

As word spread of Beth Ross' diagnosis last August, Simrell found employees working at his family company - Jiffy® Steamer - had their own stories to share. Their "eighth" women were their own mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and best friends. It seemed no one was untouched by the scourge - even men. Fifteen hundred of them will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in the United States.

"Beth turned the awareness light on for our family-owned company," says Simrell. "On Oct. 25, as we were learning what Beth had gone through in 22 hours of surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct her breasts at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, we were also moving toward a commitment to help in the fight against breast cancer."

Simrell and his stepson, Clint Joiner, who is project manager for Jiffy® Steamer, decided their weapon of choice in the breast cancer war would be their own product - commercial and home steamer units for clothing care, sold in all 50 states and 45 foreign countries.

"Every time I called my friend Bob Cartwright to ask what I could do to help while his family was going through this hard time, he would say, 'There's really nothing.' I felt helpless. Then when we found out the stories coming out of our own company, it all came together. We have decided to produce a garment steamer product line in pink, because pink is the color of breast cancer awareness. Every time a pink steamer is sold at retail we will donate 10 percent of the retail price to fighting breast cancer," Simrell says, noting that 75 percent of the company's customers are women.

The battle will begin on the home front - in the place where Beth Ross grew up and is raising her own son and daughter.

The first donations will be directed toward the funding of free mammograms for women who cannot afford them in Obion County. Simrell and Joiner are attempting to partner with the Obion County Cancer Agency, which provides funding to help cancer patients in this area meet expenses associated with their illness and its treatment, in order to implement this program. They also have an agreement with the Woman's Clinic and Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City to provide mammograms and valuable diagnostic services at discounted prices in order to make their donated dollars serve as many women as possible.
The pair are thinking big. Once the new pink line of Jiffy® Steamers is adequately serving women in Obion County, funds will be put to work in adjacent communities, then across the state and throughout the nation.

"We want the dollars to be used directly on mammograms, ultrasounds and stereotactic biopsies, not on administrative costs," Simrell says. "There may be some wrinkles in our plan, but we'll 'steam' them out," Joiner promises with a grin.

The new "pink line" will feature four models of the steamer to meet the needs of travel, commercial and residential customers. The familiar breast cancer awareness ribbon will be featured in the logo on each steamer.

Vendors who are supplying the raw materials necessary to help Jiffy® Steamer produce the new product line are excited by the concept behind the steamers as well and are already vying for a chance to buy the first ones ready for shipment.

Simrell says he hopes to be able to begin selling those first models to walk-in customers at his facility at 4462 Ken-Tenn Highway near Union City and through the company's Web site at www.jiffysteamer.com by early December 2005. The first unit, of course, is earmarked as a gift for Beth Ross.

"We believe we need to spread the message of awareness. That has the potential to touch families everywhere. Early detection that mammograms can provide is so important in defeating breast cancer," Joiner says.

"Breast cancer, along with any cancer, is a terrible thing that no one should have to go through," says Beth Ross. "Breast cancer is an incredible burden on the person diagnosed as well as family members and friends. Tab and I have been truly blessed by the support of our family, friends and our community. We consider ourselves very fortunate to live in Obion County.

"When something like this strikes in your life, you ask yourself, 'How will I deal with this and what good can come out of this?' My first answer is obvious and it precedes the second: You put your faith in God and you gain strength from others' kind words, thoughts and prayers. Second, you ask God to reveal His plan. I can honestly say that the Simrell family's decision to make a Jiffy® Steamer that identifies itself with the breast cancer's signature pink is a result of what happened to me.

"The Simrells are closer than friends; they are family. They felt a calling to do something to make a difference. The money that this household staple will generate will make a tremendous difference in others' lives. "Do I think that this would have happened had I not been diagnosed with breast cancer? My answer is, 'No!' "Is this plan to launch a new steamer to benefit breast cancer part of God's plan? I don't think so, I know so! "Thank you, all the members of the Simrell family, and the employees of Jiffy® Steamer for allowing me to participate in something so special," Beth Ross adds.

The daily success of the "pink line battles" will be posted on the Jiffy® Steamer web page at www.jiffysteamer.com so everyone can get up-to-the-minute information on the number of dollars designated for the cause.

"We want to see this happen. We're committed to a proactive approach. There won't be a cap on our commitment and there won't be a time limit on sales. We're in this for as long as the company lasts," Simrell pledges. He has, at last, found a way to help his friend and that friend's daughter - the eighth woman.

There are many who feel, as they identify more and more "eighth women" in their circle of acquaintances, that the enemy may be stepping up the attack. But so are those who are fighting back. One pink Jiffy® Steamer at a time.

The American Cancer Society suggests every woman over the age of 40 should receive an annual mammogram as a first line of defense against breast cancer. Local gynecologist Dr. Robert Cameron of the Woman's Clinic adds a caveat: If a woman's mother had breast cancer at a young age, that woman will be at an increased risk. If the mother was diagnosed at age 40, then her daughter should consider beginning her own mammograms at age 30 - just back it up 10 years from the time of the mother's diagnosis, Cameron says of that important first mammogram.

Mammograms will pick up nine out of 10 breast cancers and that makes them valuable tools in the battle, but breast self-examination every month right after the end of a woman's menstrual period is also essential, says the doctor Beth Ross turned to for a diagnosis when she first felt a lump in her breast. "All women over the age of 20 should learn BSE and perform it monthly," he advises.

Clinical breast examination by a doctor or nurse every year is recommended by the American Cancer Society for those 40 and older, with a three-year cycle suggested for women from 20-39 years old.

Some genes have been identified as genetic carriers of cancers, according to information provided by Cameron. "If there is a strong family history (mother, sister, grandmother, aunt) these women should be considered for special genetic testing for the gene mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2. By the time a woman carrying this gene reaches the age of 70, she is entertaining an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and a 44 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Those inheriting the BRCA2 mutation face about the same radically high risk of developing breast cancer and also an increased risk of suffering from ovarian cancer. The mutation can be passed through either parent and the occurrence of the diseases that are linked to these mutations usually occur fairly early in life. The average age at diagnosis is 45 years old, compared to 64 years for breast cancer not related to the mutations."


Beth Cartwright Ross and her family

MAKING A DIFFERENCE - Beth (Cartwright) Ross and her family are involved in a fight against breast cancer, a disease that affects one in every eight women and struck the young Union City wife and mother earlier this year. Recently Mrs. Ross, her husband, Tab ( at right) and their children, Walker and Emma, learned that family friends Bill Simrell (second from left), partner in Jiffy® Steamer, and his stepson, Clint Joiner (at left), Chief Operating Officer for the company that produces the commercial and home steamer units, are ready to unveil a new line of steamers in the breast cancer signature pink color. Ten percent of the retail sales' price earned on these special units will be directed toward testing for early diagnosis of the devastating illness. The units will be available in early December 2005 at the Jiffy® Steamer facility at 4462 Ken-Tenn Highway near Union City and through the company's Web site at www.jiffysteamer.com.



 

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