Following mastectomy, in October 1999, Lenora Johnson voiced in a prayer, "God, there really should be something more to offer women who are diagnosed with breast cancer." In larger cities such as Birmingham and Huntsville, I'm sure there are several very active support groups. In Anniston, Alabama, in 1999, there was not one group.
In September, 2000, as I prepared my home for Christmas, in advance of an October 30, TRAM reconstruction at UAB in Birmingham, I was overcome with the urgency of establishing a support group for the women who lived in Calhoun and surrounding counties. As I shopped in Joy Christian Book Store, I was introduced to Bruce Wilkinson, who was in Jacksonville, promoting his little book, "The Prayer of Jabez.." Upon hearing of my journey with breast cancer and upcoming surgery, Dr. Wilkinson gave me a copy of his book. The Prayer of Jabez, I Chronicles 4:10: "Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain." This prayer is the foundation of Steel Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group, Inc.
The first meeting of Steel Magnolias, in August 2001, was held in Suite 904 of RMC Professional Plaza. Present at that meeting were, five cancer survivors, Chaplain Jim Wilson, and my husband, Prentiss Johnson. Each of us told our story of taking a journey into a dark place and, now feeling that we had survived to bring more light into the hearts of newly diagnosed women. As I listened to the courageous stories of each woman, I exclaimed, "This room is filled with Steel Magnolias."
In September, 2001, I mailed the first Steel Magnolias Newsletter. For over a year, I typed the letter on my word processoor, printed and mailed the letters from my home. Then, for close to another year, JSU helped with printing and I still mailed the letters from my home. As our mailing list grew, I called Chaplain Wilson and told him I would have to purge our mailing list because the postage was getting too oppressive. Chaplain Wilson then cleared it with North East Alabama Regional Medical Center for the Steel Magnolias Newsletter to be printed and mailed through the mail room. What a blessing!
In October 2001, Bonnie McGee, met me in Piedmont and we rode together to the Borden Springs' Tuesday Bear Hugger Workshop. The Bear Huggers had, for about three years, been sewing comfort items to help cancer patients have an easier time in recovery. On November 20, 2001, Brenda Austin, who in May 2004, at 38 years young, lost her battle with breast cancer, my good friend, Gudrun and I made another trip to the Tuesday Bear Hugger Work shop. Since November, 2001, Steel Magnolias and the Tuesday Bear Huggers have teamed up to provide a complete support package for newly diagnosed patients.
For several years the work of Steel Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group consisted of mailing care packages to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, the Steel Magnolias Newsletter and monthly meetings. For a few years, we depended on yard sales for our operating capital. The work was grueling, and in 2003, with $57 in the bank, I became so discouraged that I was tempted to abandon the work. However, a $500 check from MGMA and an angel named HOPE, left on my porch by a breast cancer survivor who left the message that she was 1 year old and a thank you for helping her through that year, renewed my resolve.
Early in the life of Steel Magnolias, we started producing our own Birthday, Prayer, Thank You and Encouragement cards. Using photography, mostly by Pokey Warren, and verse composed by Lenora Johnson, Pokey designed and printed beautiful and original greeting cards. Warren's Family Affair, in the Noble Building, on 10th Street in Anniston is the local retail outlet for Pokey's beautiful cards, framed pictures and other magnificent, original, works of art.
It was in 2003 that Marilyn McCormick who had received care packages from Steel Magnolias, began attending meetings. Marilyn, an aerobics instructor, was asked to join an expedition of Alabama breast cancer survivors who were planning an expedition to Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. For months, Steel Magnolias helped Marilyn with fundraising. Before her departure, Steel Magnolias honored Marilyn at a commissioning dinner. Dr. David Roberts,Gladeview Baptist Church's new pastor, delivered a powerfully motivating speech. Of the five women who actually made the trip, Marilyn was one of only two women who reached the summit of Kilimanjaro.
"Climb For The Cause," invited organizations, that worked with breast cancer patients, to apply for grants, to be given away, in Birmingham, at a special reception. In February 2004, a large group of Steel Magnolias and friends went to a beautiful reception at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and received a grant for $1300. Because Steel Magnolias was not, at the time, a recognized nonprofit organization, we had to receive our grant through a faith based ministry. Dr. Roberts accepted the check on behalf of Steel Magnolias. In gratitude of Dr. Roberts' making it possible for Steel Magnolias to receive much needed funding, Steel Magnolias gave $150 to the Women's Ministry at Gladeview.
Steel Magnolias, because of our involvement with "Climb For The Cause," attended receptions, honoring the Kilimanjaro climbers, at Jefferson State Community College, Shelby Campus, and other locations in Birmingham. Our transportation for these fun trips was provided by Kathy Evans.
The year 2004, was a year of great loss for Steel Magnolias. Heaven became richer and we became poorer, as we faced the loss of 38 year young, Brenda Austin and 48 year young, Del Baker. At the 2004 Relay for Life, Steel magnolias carried huge pictures of Brenda and Del, as we walked around the Oxford Stadium.
2004 was also the year that jelled us into a real force for good, as we continued to search for answers to the needs of local breast cancer patients. Listed are the events that shaped the future for Steel Magnolias: 1) $1300 grant from "Climb For The Cause" 2) Advanced Printing designed the signature Steel Magnolias poster 3) United Way Volunteer Center named Lenora Johnson, one of six people named, "Outstanding Volunteer," in Calhoun and Cleburne Co. 4) Steel Magnolias hold the first annual Quintard Mall Bake Sale and Marti's Recycled Antique Jewelry Show. 5) First ever silent auction at Relay for Life in Oxford is sponsored by Steel Magnolias. 6) Steel Magnolias establish their first "New Beginnings Banquet." 7) Lenora Johnson was recipient of the American Cancer Society's Life Inspiration Award. 8) First Annual Celebration of Life Picnic held at Prentiss and Lenora Johnson's Lakehouse. 9) Steel Magnolias participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. 10) Attorney Joe Maloney prepared the Inc. documents for Steel Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group, Inc. 11) Lenora Johnson was one of three volunteers nominated for the Juliette P. Doster Award. Every nomination and award given to Lenora was because of the newsletter and the impact that Steel Magnolias had made, locally, in breast cancer awareness, in the lives of newly diagnosed patients and breast cancer survivors.
Joe Maloney was Pam Fox's house-closing attorney and Pam was sure that he was the right attorney to help Steel Magnolias. Upon Mr. Maloney's advice, we sought a very reputable accounting firm to help finish the legal requirements of becoming a nonprofit organization. Mr. Bob Brogdon, partner in Brogdon and Owens filed the papers and advised us as to the next steps. Pam Fox not only helped in the process of Steel Magnolias becoming a nonprofit organization, she also made the effort to help Steel Magnolias set up a web-site. We are saddened that Pam's battle with breast cancer ended before these goals were realized.
As we look back on 2005, we see it as a year of learning to function with the discipline that is required of all 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organizations. Our first board of directors and slate of officers were appointed so that the documents, in a timely manner, could be registeded with the county, state and the IRS. We worked through growing pains but still managed to make a difference in many newly diagnosed patients' lives. The Quintard Mall Avon Beauty Center came on board with contributions of toiletries for patients' cosmetic bags. Patients, not only in Calhoun County but throughout Alabama and other states could now receive care packages that filled educational, inspirational, comfort, and cosmetic needs.
In October 2005,Steel Magnolias kicked off Breast cancer Awareness month in Calhoun County with the Pink Ribbon Ball, a formal dinner and dance at the Anniston Country Club. This was a beautiful and exciting evening, all proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
On October 9, 2005, The Anniston Star published a three page article on breast cancer, written by Star Staff writer, Brandy Warren, titled "Coming Out of the Dark." The article featured Steel Magnolias, with indepth interviews from Lenora Johnson and Marti Warren. In the best news catagory, the Anniston Star's, "Coming Out of the Dark," received the Alabama Press Association's first place award.
Jacksonville Medical Center, Jacksonville, Alabama, sponsored the first ever, in Calhoun County, Walk for Breast Cancer. Steel Magnolias were invited to lead the walk that started on the City Square and looped around the Jacksonville Post Office and made it's way back in front of Village Inn and back to the square. Two beautiful and energetic young employees of JMC, Mammographer, Mandy McFall and Marketing Coordinator, Ashley Downing, organized, in just a few months, an outstanding celebration of life.
WideNet Consulting, because of the friendship between a member of Steel Magnolias and the Williams family, contributed this beautiful web-site to Steel Magnolias so that the message of HOPE could reach an even greater number of patients. We are still learning to use this beautiful and powerful tool. www.steelmagnoliasinc.org was our biggest challenge as we neared January 2006.
Monet Salon & Day Spa, early in 2006, partnered with Steel Magnolias by giving Steel Magnolias use of a large second story, walk-in closet to house the Steel Magnolias Benevolent Closet. Contributions from AlaMed, Downey Medical and recovered breast cancer patients, have filled our closet to overflowing. This closet is dedicated to providing prosthesis, mastectomy bras, and wigs, absolutely free to uninsured or underinsured breast cancer patients.
As thank you gifts to benefactors who made significant contributions to the ministry of Steel Magnolias, American Awards had Gold, Silver and Bronze coins, cast with an image of the official Steel Magnolias pin. We can never be thankful enough for the commitment of friends like Dennis and Judy Woods.
In February 2006, Steel Magnolias launched a Dining Voucher program to provide, for a family member of a breast cancer patient in surgery, a meal in the hospital cafeteria. This program was implemented in all three Calhoun County hospitals.
We accomplished much and took historic steps in 2006, and we have great organizations to thank for the funding that allowed us to accomplish those goals: Mrs. Martha Hooton Barker published soft copies of her beautiful poetry, "Times of the Heart." The little book sells for $10, half of which goes to Steel Magnolias; Aline Gardner's beautiful Dresden Plate quilt raffle provided much funding for Steel Magnolias' services; The Swinging Stars' Square Dance Club's Benefit, raised enough money so that Steel Magnolias could expand the dining voucher program to include all cancer patients and to increase vouchers to two for a family ; MGMA Ladies Night Out was the biggest and best ever, and Steel Magnolias were granted double the amount of other years. Thank You from the bottom of our hearts for making it possible for Steel Magnolias to reach out, in a significant way to help newly diagnosed cancer patients.
From the start of Steel Magnolias, in 2001, we have accepted every opportunity to participate in health fairs or to speak to school groups or at Ladies Night Out. Our members have been the voice and face of Steel Magnolias, where ever and when ever, asked. We can never praise God enough for His blessings and for the individuals and businesses that have partnered with Steel Magnolias, helping to shine a light of HOPE into the hearts of patients who are in such a dark place.
As Steel Magnolias carry the torch of HOPE into 2007, we owe special thanks to Chaplain Jim Wilson, Joe Keil, Dr. David Roberts, Dr. James Daniel, Vickie Simmons, and the wonderful husbands of Steel Magnolias, who are dependable and faithful soldiers.
January 2007, A new beginning, at the close of a volitile year, a year contrasted by pruning and renewed motivation to ease the suffering of women diagnosed with breast cancer. In January, I met Celeste, the granddaughter of Hazel Johnson Rudolph. Celeste, who lives near Austin, Texas has, for several years, been receiving the Steel Magnolias newsletter. She is now fighting breast cancer mets. As we sat and visited with each other, I learned of her dedication to her Austin, Bosom Buddies. Their group meets once a week for lunch, and two parties, one in summer and a Christmas party where spouses are invited. Their special project is an outreach to women in Nicargua. It was wonderful to put a face to someone, out of our service area who has been helped by Steel Magnolias and from whom we can learn of the ministries of another support group.
The year 2007, was marked with many opportunities to carry the Steel Magnolias' message to local civic clubs, church groups and school faculties. Our brochures have been expanded to include much more information concerning the need for mammograms and information needed by patients as they begin their journey with breast cancer.
The Warren Family Affair, a boutique and gift shop, marketing original items: greeting cards, dvd's, framed prints, etc. featuring the outstanding photography by Pokey Warren, Marti's Recycled Antique Jewelry, and various other craft items, all original creations of the daughters of Pokey and Marti Warren, opened in the Noble Building. This little shop has become a resource for Steel Magnolias' literature distribution, a collection point for contributions of old costume jewelry, to be sold as a fund raiser and contributed items for the Steel Magnolias Benevolent Closet, as well as a place of refreshment as troubled survivors sit and visit with Marti, a retired school counselor.
In 2007, www.steelmagnoliasinc.org became a reality. Thanks to the invaluable talents of Derek Conrad Brown and the incomparable work of web-site designer, Chris Williams, our newsletter now goes directly to individual email boxes, we have been able to make this site uniquely our own, and there appears to be no end to the expansion of this great method of communication. We recommend WideNet Consulting to anyone in search of a website designer.
Finding the answers and unraveling the puzzle about services available to uninsured women, began to reveal itself to Steel Magnolias on May 23, at the RMC Summit on Aging. There I met Mr. Ricky Hatcher, Calhoun County Director of Medicaid. Mr. Hatcher asked if I knew about the 2001 Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act. I told him no, but I want to know about it. The next day I received, in the mail, information about the little known Medicaid program that had a built in loophole. It took several months to unravel and connect the dots but this issue became one of the defining campaigns of Steel Magnolias in 2007.
The New Beginnings Banquet, at Top O The River, was a shot of enthusiasm for everyone in attendance. Sylvia Malone gave an unforgettable speech, as did the singing by Margaret Taylor and Jean Gidley and every other presenter: Dr. Dave Roberts, Chaplain Wilson, Ina Rooks and Nancy Burnell.
Steel Magnolias many services, now include: Awareness program for Junior and High School girls, Snack baskets and dining vouchers for patients in Anniston's three chemotherapy labs, and a quarterly contribution to provide transportation to stranded patients at Anniston Oncology. Men of Steel, a support group for men whose wife or girl friend is a woman living with breast cancer or men who are themselves breast cancer survivors, will start in January, 2008
We are very grateful to the Swinging Stars Square Dance Club for their hard work, again this year, for the Steel Magnolias Benefit,in October at the Oxford Civic Center. This fund raiser is the last of the year, with the first being a bake and jewelry sale on the Saturday before Easter at the Quintard Mall. God richly blessed and we continue to expand our services.
A Letter to our elected representatives in Montgomery is a project that started just before the end of 2007 and will continue, probably into 2009.