Sleepy Eye Medical Center hosted their second annual Paint the Town Pink event at the Sleepy Eye Event Center, with about 100 women in attendance.

Sleepy Eye Medical Center hosted their second annual Paint the Town Pink event on Wednesday evening, Oct. 4, at the Sleepy Eye Event Center. About 100 women gathered to raise awareness and learn more about breast cancer, while also enjoying some snacks, socializing and crafting.

Dr. Karlyn Armbruster gave a presentation on breast cancer—what it is, what the signs are, what the risk factors are, how it is detected, and treatment options. She echoed the opening remarks of Mikayla Bruggeman, SEMC Community Relations Coordinator, who said that one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Armbruster said it is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide.

Armbruster also spoke about the newest method of detecting breast cancer, 3-Dimensional Mammography, which she expects will soon be the standard of care. “It’s brand new, really exciting technology. It takes multiple x-rays of breast tissue to recreate a 3-D picture of the breast. Sleepy Eye Medical Center is currently budgeting funds for 3-D Mammogram,” said Armbruster. “Hopefully within the next year we’ll have that, and it will become your standard mammogram.”

The women at the Paint the Town Pink event paid to attend and the proceeds benefit the SEMC Mammography Department.

Following Armbruster’s presentation, Alisha Schmidt and Andrea Merkel, who are breast cancer survivors—and sisters—told the audience their cancer stories.

The sisters were diagnosed about a year apart, been diagnosed with breast cancer) and Andrea in 2015—both at a young age, in their early thirties.

Alisha is an Emergency Department RN at River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter, a volunteer EMT in Fairfax and also used to be a nurse at SEMC. She said she was glad to see friends in the audience, making a difficult talk easier to deliver. Alisha and her husband, Steve, and their four-year-old daughter, Avery, live in Fairfax.

Andrea and her husband, Dan, also live in Fairfax. Andrea works as a personal banker at Bremer Bank in Redwood Falls.

Alisha and Andrea shared their stories of diagnosis and treatment, and of the great support they received from family and friends. They also tearfully spoke of the pain of seeing their sister, their best friend, go through everything. Both have been cancer free for over two years.

Andrea told how having cancer also had positive impacts on her. “Cancer has taken many things from myself and Dan, but I choose to focus on how surviving cancer has positively changed our life together,” she said. “We no longer say someday. We now make the phone calls and visits instead of just saying we are too busy, maybe someday—someday is never promised. I now say something when someone I know is facing a hardship in life. It may not be the right thing to say, but it is better than saying nothing at all, which we have learned can hurt more than any illness. Cancer has given us the freedom to let go of the things that truly don’t matter in life and focus on what is important to us.”

Alisha wrapped up the sisters’ presentation. She said, “I am so thankful and grateful everyday to be alive. I’ll be honest, I still struggle to come to terms with what I went through. It is a known fact that young survivors deal with anxiety and depression after going through treatment. We are forever changed. We’ve had to come to terms with changing our life goals, our goals for our family, our careers. Our friendships and relationships with loved ones change too. We also live with knowing that cancer could return.

“As a survivor, you learn to take it one day at time, learn to appreciate the little things, see the positives in everything.”

Alisha closed with recognition of the women in attendance. “The advancements that have been made in research have been made possible through events like these,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who came out tonight to hear us speak and to show support for finding a cure for breast cancer.”