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The Pink Heals tour vehicle at the High Springs event for Breast Cancer Awareness which was held on Oct. 11 in downtown High Springs. Dave Graybill, the founder of the Pink Heals foundation stands in front of the tour bus and merchandise table that riases funds for local charities and to cover the cost of the tour. Any profit from sales goes directly to the community. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – During their lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, it is estimated that over 246,660 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die every year. On average, every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and one woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes. Although rare, the disease does affect men as well. Each year about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 440 will die.

But there is hope, early detection and diagnosis greatly improves a woman's chance of treatment and survival. There are over 2.8 million survivors in the United States and continued research into the disease is improving those chances. These facts are why October has been designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. If people are aware of the symptoms and the need for regular medical checkups, the chance survival increases. In addition, events held by organizations to raise money keep research going to find a permanent cure for the disease.

Both the towns of Alachua and High Springs are actively involved in raising the awareness during the month. The official color for Breast Cancer Awareness is pink, and support by individuals is often shown by wearing a small pink ribbon. The City of Alachua has issued a proclamation designating the month as Breast Cancer Awareness month and has asked all city employees to wear pink during the month. They also have decorated city vehicles and asked other local businesses to participate.

In downtown High Springs, there was an event held on Oct. 11 featuring all pink vehicles from the Pink Heals Foundation. The High Springs Fire and Police departments also participated by adding their vehicles and staff to the event.

The Great Outdoors Restaurant provided free pink cookies and cake baked by their desserts chef, Jean Ledew. Each month she makes a different specialty desert for the restaurant, and October is always a pink cake to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Money from the cake sales in October are donated for breast cancer research. Last October the restaurant raised over $3,000.

For Ledew, known as Aunt Jean, this is a personal matter as well. She is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor who endured a double mastectomy, 31 radiation treatments and several additional surgeries to beat the disease. Two weeks ago she had to have additional emergency surgery, but when asked to participate in the event she did not hesitate, despite stitches and pain from the surgery.

The Pink Heals Organization tours the country with over 150 pink vehicles including fire trucks, police cars, ambulances and buses. Based all on volunteers, the tour takes 180 days in 180 cities. This year it started in Phoenix, Arizona, and will end in Jacksonville, Florida. Next June it will start in Jacksonville and reverse the tour, ending in Phoenix.

The purpose of the organization is to provide city leaders and local businesses with a nonprofit program that supports people, not causes, does home visits to patients and maintains fund raising dollars locally in support of women and their families. The vehicles are brought to the different cities as an event for the public and to create charity chapters within each local community to help raise money for awareness and treatment of diseases. Although based around breast cancer the organization tries to raise funds for a number of diseases and create charity services within the community, especially for women.

The organization is the brain child of Dave Graybill, a former pro baseball player with the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners and California Angels. After retiring from baseball, he became a firefighter. In 2007, he decided to raise awareness for health issues and purchased a fire truck, painted it pink and used his vacation to drive around the country to promote raising money within the local communities.

“I wanted to create local nonprofits where the money stayed in the community. National charities raise money in communities but take the funds out of the community to the main organization, where much of the funds are used for administration cost and not to benefit the communities that the money came from,” Graybill said. “I wanted to create local organizations where the money could be used to focus on the people within that community and their specific needs.”

Graybill works with local governments and first responders to organize the community events. “This also helps create a stronger bond between the officials and the people in the community,” he said.

The Pink Heals tour is funded by sales of merchandise and clothing supporting breasts cancer awareness. This keeps the vehicles running and cover expenses, but not for profit. All drivers and staff, including Graybill, are unpaid volunteers

“We make sure that 100 percent of the funds raised at these events stay in the community to help the people of that community. This is a program that brings people together, based on the love of women and their families. We also provide home visits to show individuals that they are loved, cherished and important to others. Our organization brings back the human element by celebrating people, not causes.” Graybill added.

More information about the program can be found at www.pinkfiretrucks.org

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