[EDITOR'S NOTE — Difference Makers articles share stories of the local heroes making a difference during the extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This section is made possible by Eastwood Mall and named in honor of Mark Eckert, who made a difference in the Mahoning Valley.]
BOARDMAN — Shortly after conquering stage 3 breast cancer, Michelle Apple, a registered dietitian and Mahoning Valley native, founded the Apple Breast Cancer Warrior Foundation to raise funds and to advocate for other breast cancer patients.
The foundation serves Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, and parts of Western Pennsylvania. It raises money to pay for deductibles and medical bills not covered by insurance, as well as travel expenses to and from medical facilities — and sometimes even groceries for patients.
Since starting, the group has distributed $30,000 to cancer patients.
“I think that’s huge because we haven't even been a year [since starting],” Apple said.
This month, Apple Breast Cancer Warrior Foundation raised more than $5,500 through its Monster Bash and Dance for a Cure events. Additionally, the organization collaborated with local businesses, such as Magic Tree Pub & Eatery, Grey Boutique and Creekside Health and Fitness, for fundraisers.
Apple said she thinks Breast Cancer Awareness Month is great for raising awareness. Yet, she wants everyone to understand that breast cancer doesn’t end in October.
“Throughout the whole year we have to do things to support these breast cancer patients,” she said.
For Apple, the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center was a major resource during her breast cancer journey. Now, she helps connect patients with resources the center provides.
A major initiative for Apple Breast Cancer Warrior Foundation is to get breast cancer resources, such as the Mercy Health's Joanie Abdu Mobile Mammography project, into underrepresented communities, as well as advocating for all clinics to use 3D mammography rather than a traditional mammogram to detect breast cancer.
Apple understands the importance of early detection from personal experience. She found a lump under her armpit three years before her diagnosis that her standard mammogram didn’t detect as cancerous.
Apple told Mahoning Matters that if she’d initially had a 3D mammography, doctors could’ve caught her cancer at stage 1.
“Dr. Abdu talks about [how] 1 in 8 women get it, [and] if we catch it earlier, your outcome is much better and there’s less chance of it coming back,” she said.
Currently, Apple Breast Cancer Warrior Foundation is looking for community support, especially from local businesses, to collect items such as lotion, blankets, lip balm, peppermint or spearmint candy and gripped socks for comfort bags.
These comfort bags are meant to provide support to patients during their treatment and will be distributed at the beginning of December to Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, The Hope Center For Cancer Care in Youngstown and Warren and Blood and Cancer Center in Canfield.
“Don't let cancer define you. Let it inspire you to help others,” Apple said.