This year County Pink may look different because of COVID-19 but United Way CEO Becca Titus ensures the program Lea Regional Medical Center began 10 years ago will still happen Oct. 26.
In October 2010, Lindsay Chism McCarter was the Director of Marketing at LRMC when Paint the County Pink, an event to show sup- port for breast cancer awareness, was d eve l – oped.
“ H ow great is it when you can encourage liter- ally hundreds and in this case, I would say thousands,” said McCarter. “They all have a common cause, they all have a common thought that morning when they wake up. It’s what is in the forefront of their mind. I think the sense of community and what you can do is really powerful.”
McCarter remembers businesses promoting breast cancer awareness, like McDonalds wrapping its flagpole in pink, and others making similar gestures when Paint the County Pink was in its infancy.
“It just exploded,” said McCarter. “That was all in the first year. The next year was even bigger.”
It started with a phone call, according to McCarter. A Lea County woman called the hospital and asked what would be taking place for breast cancer awareness month in October.
“It sparked a lot of support and thought and brainstorming about what can we do,” said McCarter. “That’s actually where it stated. That one phone call from a citizen just asking — it planted the seed.”
Staff at LRMC got to thinking and looked around for inspirations. McCarter said they found inspiration in rodeo’s “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” campaign, which a colleague was involved in.
“There were already some events they had created a few years prior,” said McCarter. “It was a brainstorm with a couple of colleagues. Kinda like, what can be done to make this spread and expand and get the most people involved.”
People always like T-shirts, according to McCarter, so LRMC began coming up with T-shirt designs and logos to sell. All the proceeds would go to support breast cancer research. She praised the teamwork it took to get Paint the County Pink running, from LRMC staff, to Light of Lea County later, and United Way through the years.
McCarter said at first they thought people could wear pink all month. However, the idea of having one day everyone can show their support was more exciting.
“One day you walk around whatever town you are in Lea County and just see a ton of pink T-shirts,” said McCarter.
The T-shirts were a hit the first year with hundreds sold for $10 each, and more people in Lea County getting involved by wearing any pink they already had.
“We had such success, even that first year,” said McCarter. “We just had to keep making more and more T-shirts. We just didn’t know how big of a support it would be. Even that first-year people really got excited about the idea.”
McCarter said a video was made by LRMC in that year of everyone in their pink and posted on Facebook. The idea caught on and all of a sudden other businesses were posting their pink shirt videos on Facebook.
“The schools did one, and everybody posted their own videos,” said McCarter. “It just turned into this really cool, very large, and very well received opportunity to bring awareness to breast cancer and the research being done and to honor all of those who have had it, or maybe that we have lost to it.”
McCarter said in the early days a lot of times the people involved were doing it for someone they were honoring.
“We had companies buying for their entire employee base,” said McCarter. “We had families buying them for everyone in their family to wear.”
Paint the County Pink is something close to McCarter’s heart, even today. Her son, Roan learned at 7-years-old about breast cancer awareness and helped his mom put up flyers and yes, he even wore pink.
“I taught him, wearing pink is okay because it is important, it means something,” McCarter said. “He knows October, he knows what that means. He knows why he spent time selling T-shirts, running stuff around, hanging flyers. I think teaching kids to care about things far bigger than themselves is a great benefit.”
Roan is now a 17-year-old senior in high school and still wears pink in October to show support for breast cancer.
Nothing about the first Paint the County Pink was set up in a traditional advertising way, according to McCarter. That is why they were surprised to get such an overwhelming response.
“It was what I would call very much a grassroots approach,” said McCarter. She added she would go to business and ask them to put flyers up and that’s how the the word spread. “It (Paint the County Pink) was one of the most successful things that I have ever been apart of.”
After a few years, Light of Lea County took over Paint the County Pink for LRMC. Light of Lea County is an organization helping to cover non-medical expenses of those with cancer. It was formed in 2011.
Dana Ankerholz, secretary of the board of Light of Lea County, said the proceeds from T-shirts sold during Paint the County Pink are used to support anyone who comes to Light of Lea County for financial help, not just those with breast cancer. All proceeds from T-shirt sales go to Light of Lea County, so all the money is going to help those living in Lea County, Ankerholz said.
Ankerholz added when someone has cancer and has to make the hard decision of paying for gas or another bill, having support from Light of Lea County reduces a little of that stress.
Over the years, McCarter said Paint the County Pink has grown bigger and even when the transition from LRMC to Light of Lea County it never lost momentum.
“I think that we all look for ways that we can do something for, unfortunately, millions of people that do have cancer,” said McCarter. “I think this movement, the idea of Paint the County Pink, and wearing those shirts, it is a small, simple, relatively cheap thing.”
Over the years more and more agencies and businesses have become involved as well, including Lea County Schools and multiple Police departments.
“It took on a life of its own,” said McCarter. “It didn’t really matter who was hosting it. It didn’t really matter if there was a sign on a business anymore. Everyone knew and they found out where to get their T-shirt and they did it on their own. Which is really the true sign of a success on any event, if you ask me.”
Early detection is one of the major key’s to help survival, according to McCarter. Having the awareness of cancer and knowing about early detection is one of the keys to helping people in their fight.
She added Paint the County Pink doesn’t just spread the word on breast cancer but also honors those who are fighting, have survived, or have died from breast cancer.
Having a bit of normal, like Paint the County Pink, during the chaos of a COVID-19 world is important and even therapeutic for those getting involved, she said.
“Nobody wants to have a cancer movement, an awareness movement. I would love to think there is no breast cancer anymore, so we wouldn’t have to have breast cancer awareness month,” said McCarter. “Until that day, how great that this will bring us back to feeling like something we can help and be a part of, that we can get excited about being apart of.”
Titus agrees and say’s it is important to honor those in their struggles with cancer. This year Titus knows Paint the County Pink will look different but she is working on ways to make it fun virtually.
McCarter said when Paint the County Pink began, businesses would make video’s they would then post online, wearing their t-shirt.
Titus said she might look back at business videos, like in the first year, or try to use other social media apps to have 2020’s Paint the County Pink in a fun way. She added businesses are already getting in touch regarding when and where to get T-shirts for Paint the County Pink.
“People look forward to it,” said Titus. “We are going to do something on Oct. 26. The county made a declaration to make Oct. 26 Paint the County Pink day.”
To pick up a T-shirt for Paint the County Pink call United Way at 575-397-2203 or stop by at 320 N Shipp St #B. All shirts are $10 and the proceeds will go to Light of Lea County.