Pleasant Millsap-Mack understands the physical and financial burdens that come with having lymphedema - going to the doctors on a daily basis for new bandaging, feeling the swelling pain in her arms, and paying for the expensive bandages her insurance doesn't cover.
But through it all, Millsap-Mack, a lifelong Buffalo resident, remains positive. She's surrounded by good people who help her fight every day, including her friend, Colette Stephens, who helped her generate a plan to give back.
"She said, 'You should do an event and let people see that they can live with this - and truly live with it,'?" Millsap-Mack said.
She took that advice and started the Lymphedema Breast Cancer Foundation of Western New York. On Oct. 14, Millsap-Mack will host a fundraiser at Protocol Restaurant on Transit Road in Amherst to help cover the costs of wraps, bandages and compression garments for people with lymphedema. Tickets cost $35, and the fundraiser will run from 3 to 7 p.m. Millsap-Mack hopes to raise at least $10,000.
Lymphedema, which is not a cancer, is an accumulation of fluid that sometimes results when lymph nodes are removed, for example, during surgery to treat some breast cancers. It prevents lymphatic fluid from circulating through the body, causing swelling in the arms, fingers and sides. It is commonly linked to the removal of lymph nodes as part of breast cancer treatment, but it can develop in other ways as well. Special sleeves, gloves and bandages are worn on the limbs to decrease swelling.
Millsap-Mack wants to alleviate at least one burden on others with lymphedema by helping them foot the bill for the expensive wraps and bandages. Bandages can cost upward of $100, and most patients need at least eight sets because they must be changed frequently. Many insurers will cover some of the garments, but not all of them.
Millsap-Mack was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She went into remission until 2008, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. In 2009, she had a mastectomy and lymphadenectomy.
When she first approached Paul Pelczynski, owner of Protocol Restaurant, earlier this year about the fundraiser, the two immediately hit it off. Pelczynski had been wanting to give back to the community, and his mother had suffered from breast cancer.
"It was like somebody put the two of us together," Pelczynski said.
Millsap-Mack said she has been receiving very positive feedback about the fundraiser. She hopes to make the event an annual one.
"Having had so much support from family and friends - but also seeing people have no support - that's why this is important to me," she said. "I want to give back. I want my life to mean something."
To purchase tickets, call Millsap- Mack at 854-8696. Donations can also be mailed to 480 Adams St., Buffalo, N.Y. 14212, c/o Breast Cancer Network.