Empowering Mothers

Prioritizing Breast Health this Mother’s Day

Pink Ribbon Jax helped fund Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Buddy Bus, which provides mobile mammography throughout Northeast Florida.
Pink Ribbon Jax helped fund Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Buddy Bus, which provides mobile mammography throughout Northeast Florida.

Being a mother is good news in the fight against breast cancer.

“If you’ve had a child, and you’ve breastfed, all of this decreases your likelihood – your risk – of getting breast cancer,” said Pink Ribbon Jax Chair Marica Pendjer.

Mother’s Day is May 12, and Pink Ribbon Jax (PRJ) is on a mission to remind mothers – and all women and men – of the lifesaving benefits of mammograms, which have been shown to reduce breast cancer death across the board by 22%.

Pendjer said early detection is the key. When caught before it spreads, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%.

Because of that, PRJ has two main goals in 2024: to raise $500,000 to expand access for uninsured and underinsured patients, and to increase awareness through the Light Jax Pink campaign. Pendjer said the idea for the campaign came during COVID when she noticed social media posts of people having to go in alone to breast cancer surgeries while mammography rates simultaneously dropped more than 90%.

Florida Blue building lit up in pink
Acosta Bridge lit up in pink
Lions Fountain in San Marco decorated in pink

Jacksonville icons turn pink October 1-8 in support of breast cancer awareness.

“How do you let people know that you’re there for them when they can’t see you? Lighting!” said Pendjer. “I want to see it keep growing until we have all of Jacksonville pink October 1-8, because 1 in 8 women gets breast cancer in their lifetime.”

Since then, PRJ has shifted its funding strictly to free mammograms. Last year, thanks, in part, to large and in-kind donors, PRJ’s expense ratio was zero, meaning 100% of all funding taken in by PRJ went directly to mammograms.

“Mammography rates had fallen so much during COVID, we knew we had to do something to help people get back into the habit, or at least gain access. Until we get these rates back up, we have to fund mammograms. It is our first line of defense,” said Pendjer.

The community has stepped up in support of the cause. What began in 2006 as one event, the Pink Ribbon Golf Classic, has grown into partnerships with many community businesses – like Underwood’s Jewelers, Fields Auto Group and Kendra Scott – for events throughout the year.

“All of us here have had someone we know have breast cancer, including my wife, Christy, plus many others connected to our Underwood family,” said Clayton Bromberg, gemologist with Underwood’s. “This was and always has been a total volunteer effort. We all need to be involved in supporting screening.”

In addition to on-site services with Baptist Health, PRJ helps bring mammograms into the community with programs like Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Buddy Bus, which provides mobile mammography throughout Northeast Florida.

Pendjer said she is hoping the program can expand to imaging centers, but cited after-care as the largest challenge if someone finds out they have breast cancer. Instead, PRJ is focusing on adding organizations like UF Health and Ascension St. Vincent’s, which can enroll women into the Breast and Cervical Cancer Fund to help pay for their treatment.

“Obviously if they can’t afford the mammogram, they can’t afford the treatment,” she said. “I couldn’t live with myself if we didn’t have a plan for those women and men who get diagnosed with breast cancer.”

It costs around $300 for a mammogram screening, and Pendjer encourages those who can to adopt the “get one, give one” model.

For qualifications and to request a free mammogram, visit pinkribbonjax.org/free-mammograms.

By Lindsey Gast-Pessia
Resident Community News

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