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Through healing eyes

October 5, 2010

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness, but for Katheryn Harlan, breast cancer awareness is an everyday passion.
Harlan is the founder and president of Through Healing Eyes, a local breast cancer awareness group that raises money for treatment, prevention and education.
Harlan started the group seven years ago, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine screening.
"I realized there are a lot of people in this area who are affected (by breast cancer)," she said.
The group follows three guiding principles, which include raising funds for the uninsured and underinsured, educating people about the power of early detection and inspiring others to move beyond their diagnosis.
Harlan chronicled her experience with cancer through photographs taken by Sally Fanjoy, of Fanjoy-Labrenz Photography, and when she and other breast cancer survivors saw the beautiful photographs, they decided to create a calendar.
The group's calendars feature diverse breast cancer survivors of all ages and ethnicities.
"We represent as many cultures as possible," Harlan said.
And 100 percent of the group's proceeds stay within the area.
"People ask, 'Why should I give my money to you?'" Harlan said. "... We are able to keep all of our money local."
Through Healing Eyes has an executive board, which makes decisions about where the money goes. In six years, the group raised about $250,000 for local breast cancer support, treatment and awareness.
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, the group funneled $56,000 into local breast cancer awareness and support programs, Harlan said.
Some of that money is used to fund mammograms through mobile mammogram buses. Through Healing Eyes pays for mammograms for women who qualify for the procedure, so the preventative care is of no cost to the patient.
"We have professional people who have lost their jobs, and they now can't get their mammograms," Harlan said.
The group will also pay for needed treatment and medication.
She said most health care professionals advise women to start receiving mammograms at age 40, but that doesn't mean women shouldn't be proactive against breast cancer earlier in their life.
Harlan said women in their 20s should do a monthly breast self-exam.
"Get to know your breasts," she said, "and get into the habit of doing that once a month."
The group, called Breast Friends, meets on the second Monday of each month from 6-7 p.m. at Frye Care on Tate Boulevard.
"They can be 10 years out, or they can just have gotten their diagnosis," Harlan said.
Through Healing Eyes also helps women immediately following their breast cancer diagnosis and throughout the course of their treatment.
The group offers breast cancer survivors a support system, as well as a chance for fun and education during a challenging time in their lives.
"It's of paramount importance that you surround yourself with outside people who are going through the same things you are," Harlan said. "They're able to let their hair down, and they're able to cry."
The group learns breathing techniques and other coping mechanisms, but they also watch movies and laugh together.
Through Healing Eyes members will be at the Conover Farmers Market on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They will have goodie baskets and their calendars on hand, and survivors will speak to market goers.
"It's a whole education day," Harlan said. "We're hoping to bring awareness not just to breast cancer, but to breast health."
Julie Lehmann, Conover Farmers Market manager, said the market is the perfect setting for a discussion about healthy behaviors.
"The Farmers Market, in my opinion, has a natural connection with food, health and diet," she said.
Lehmann said she met three people at the Farmers Market in the last six months who have experienced breast cancer, and she thought the market was a great opportunity to raise awareness about breast health.

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