Bonnie Bell, mother of Wetumpka’s Natacha Graham, is more than just a statistic: She is a survivor, four times over.
Bell was first diagnosed with breast cancer around age 30 and knew her mission in life was to help uninsured, under-insured women receive the quality care they needed when facing unforeseen circumstances, such as breast cancer.
Breast and Body Health was formed as a nonprofit organization to provide women with the proper tools to battle the journey of being diagnosed. There are so many that help during the initial diagnosis, but B&B’s mission is designed to assist with what happens after the fact with travel to treatments, co-payments and funding for wigs when patients lose their hair due to chemotherapy, along with other products.
Graham knew this was the path chosen for her long before she took a step down the road. Actually, she ran from it for a while until facing the ultimate truth that this was her calling, too.
“My mother knows she has a purpose to help as many other women as she can. I tried to move and run from it, but I knew what I had to do,” said Graham, president of Breast & Body Health and owner of B&B Health Boutique in Wetumpka.
There are two parts to the B&B business: One is nonprofit and the other is retail. Women come to B&B either with high deductibles or co-pays they can’t afford, and Bell and Graham’s nonprofit picks up the cost. B&B’s retail side was designed to help offset the costs of products that women need when dealing with cancer and mastectomies.
“We have to ask them to pay, but if they can’t, we turn it over to the nonprofit. We don’t turn anyone away. We want to be sure everyone has the products they need,” said Graham.
B&B carries mastectomy items, different sized prosthesis, balancers, bras for every size woman, wigs, essential oils, handmade soaps, lotions and more.
“We want to provide products these women need after diagnosis to feel as normal as possible,” said Graham.
The shop provides a private, safe environment for women to undergo the difficult process of dealing with the after-effects of surgery or chemotherapy.
Every October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Graham dyes her hair pink in honor of the month and hosts the annual Pink Carpet Gala, where funds directly support the nonprofit organization. This year’s gala was held earlier this month at My Place II in Montgomery with speaker Tasha Scott and hosted by Tonya Terry. A second gala was held in Virginia, where Bell first started the organization.
As her day job, Graham works with the American Urological Association, so she’s advocating for both men’s health and women’s health on different platforms; however, her interaction with medical directors and ability to work with insurance companies puts Graham in a seat above others.
“I have the opportunity to affect legislation and help work with policies. Right now we are advocating the Let Her Decide movement. It’s the breast cancer equality act,” said Graham. “Did you know insurance companies will pay for custom parts of literally every part of the body, except breast implants? This bill would let women decide what the best avenue is for them.”
Bill H.R. 1370 would open Medicare up to covering customer breast prosthesis, which it currently does not, limiting a women’s options following a mastectomy.
“Reconstruction is not always the best option, and it could cause bigger issues. We help fit people the best we can with the prosthesis we have, but custom prosthesis is ideal,” said Graham.
Graham is not the only Wetumpka resident advocating for breast cancer awareness. The City of Wetumpka each year hosts an annual Color the Town Pink Walk. This year, participants are encouraged to meet in front of the Wetumpka Civic Center on Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. and take the riverwalk to Gold Star Park for a pink balloon release and pink lemonade and refreshments.
“This city is committed to keep this an ongoing and annual thing. This is the 11th year, and it was initially organized to bring awareness to breast cancer with an organized event for the citizens of Wetumpka,” said Valencia Smith, City of Wetumpka’s City Hall assistant and event planner.
Before the walk, there will be a brief presentation by two speakers: Jackie Butler with the Joy to Life Foundation and Jenny Dodson, a breast cancer survivor.
Butler worked in the fitness industry for 30 years and has been the bookkeeper at JTL since 2012. She keeps the breast screening work moving and is a breast cancer survivor with a mission to keep people healthy.
Dodson was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016 and a month later began a round of 20 treatments of chemotherapy. Her hair started falling out, she suffered terrible symptoms and side effects and eventually lost her job. She will be in remission for three years this December and now volunteers at the Montgomery Cancer Center. She graduated magna cum laude to become a certified registered medical assistant.
As early detection is key, Ivy Creek Healthcare is providing free breast exams at its primary care locations for the month of October. It’s offering free mammograms at Elmore Community Hospital on Oct. 28. Call 334-514-3688 to schedule a free mammogram.
For more information about B&B, visit the Breast and Body Health Facebook page.