- Michelle Fong Staff Writer
The Pink Ribbon Girls kicked off National Breast Cancer Awareness month with an appearance on national television.
Heather Salazar, the CEO and president of the Pink Ribbon Girls, and her family appeared on the “Megyn Kelly TODAY” program on Oct. 4, to share her inspirational story involving breast cancer and adoption and how she came to help launch the growing organization that works across Ohio to support women fighting cancer.
Salazar and the Pink Ribbon Girls were surprised with a $10,000 donation to help them continue their work.
“That would be about 1,400 meals,” Salazar whispered to Kelly after receiving the news live on television.
The Pink Ribbon Girls provide free direct service to those with breast and women’s reproductive cancers, including healthy meals for the family.
“This was such a humbling experience,” Salazar told us after the television appearance. “Thank you for coming together and supporting Pink Ribbon Girls so that WE as a community can help those fighting the toughest battle of their lives! We couldn’t do it without all of you! Truly #thepowerofWE.”
HOW THE PRG ENDED UP IN NYC
The Pink Ribbon Girls recently received a phone call from NBC/Universal’s TODAY show. One of their producers saw Salazar’s story in Woman’s Day magazine and wanted to feature Salazar, her family and the story of Pink Ribbon Girls on the new NBC program.
Producers flew into the area for a shoot in Ohio, then Salazar and family flew to New York to prepare for the show.
“To say we are excited is an understatement — humbled doesn’t even touch it,” PRG board chair Vicki Giambrone wrote in an announcement to the organization. “It is amazing to think have far we have come together as a PRG family and we are hoping this would be the exposure PRG needs to go to that next step in the journey to serve more women and families to ensure ‘No One Travels This Road Alone…”
Salazar’s story is truly inspirational.
The Tipp City woman and her husband Steve adopted the baby of a woman they didn’t know who was battling stage IV breast cancer. They had three little kids of their own at that time but knew what they were called to do the moment they met Alexis Preston, a young mom who was fighting for her life and needed help raising her baby.
Preston had no support. She was a single mom, age 23. She was taking public transportation to and from treatments.
Preston was looking for someone to help raise her baby while she fought for her life.
When the Salazars learned about Preston, they decided they wanted to meet her. Instantly they knew what they had to do. The Salazars soon gained full custody of little baby Alexis, whom they call Lexi, at 10 months old back in June 2002. They continued to visit Lexi’s mom regularly and supported her until the end of her battle with cancer. She died at age 24.
“It was hard to adjust at first, but life with Lexi became second nature,” Salazar wrote in the Woman’s Day article. “All of our family, but especially Steve and I, just have this immense love for her. To us, she’s no different than our biological kids. We tell Lexi how hard her mom fought and how much like her she is.”
But that’s not the end of this story.
Months later, Salazar discovered a hard lump in her breast during a self-exam.
“When the doctors told me it was cancer, I was screaming in my head, What? My kids are going to lose their mother? And Lexi’s going to lose two moms? I’m always the strong one, but then, I was not so strong. I was mad, I was scared, and I didn’t want to talk about it. Had it not been for Lexi’s mom, I would never have done that self-exam,” Salazar wrote. “She saved my life.”
Salazar had the same form of cancer as Preston.
>> Special report: Breast cancer in young women
THE START OF PINK RIBBON GIRLS
After her journey with cancer, Salazar wanted to do something to give back. In 2007, she met Tracie Martin at a young survivors conference and joined the small nonprofit she started, the Pink Ribbon Girls. Salazar helped write a grant that has given the group funds to support women with cancer by providing healthy meals, offering house cleaning services and transporting women to and from their treatments and peer support.
Fast forward to today. Pink Ribbon Girls has expanded its reach to include the greater metro areas of Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus.
In 2016, Pink Ribbon Girls provided 61,000 meals, 900 house cleanings and 2,100 rides to treatment. These programs and services are only possible through funds donated by individuals, sponsors and fund-raising events.
“We have seen the need for our services grow far beyond our expectations and as we serve more and more women with metastatic disease, our resolve to serve and support them grows stronger — even though it will never match their strength. We continue to work to raise awareness and needed resources to serve these incredible women and families,” Giambrone wrote.
“There’s no stopping,” said Sarah Gillenwater, Pink Ribbon Girls’ director of marketing, who accompanied the Salazars on the trip to New York City. “We hope this (national exposure) does more for breast cancer in general. We want word to get out that this is a national need.”