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Thanks to the Apache cheerleaders,
every day is a “pink” day in Gonzales County.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes around once a year, but thanks to the Apache cheerleaders, every day is a “pink” day in Gonzales County.

For the past five years, this spirited group of middle and high school students at Gonzales ISD has made it possible for any uninsured women in their community to get a mammogram screening at Memorial Hospital’s Jane Johnson Center.

“I think that’s incredible,” says Kelly Lindner, Gonzales Healthcare Systems Foundation Director. “To date, the Gonzales Apache cheerleaders have donated nearly $35,000 to the Foundation for this purpose. In fact, if a screening shows something and the woman’s doctor provides a note that she needs additional tests, such as a biopsy, we can help her with that at no cost.”

This isn’t just any mammogram either. Gonzales Memorial Hospital has the unique distinction of being the first rural hospital in Texas, and the second in the nation, to purchase a state-of-the-art 3D mammography machine. This technology is considered the gold standard in mammography and leads to better outcomes from earlier detection. It also helps reduce the number of false positives and callbacks.

This unique partnership between the Apache cheerleaders and the Gonzales Healthcare Systems Foundation was created six years ago when the cheerleaders began selling t-shirts for Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the intent of donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the community. The money raised from their first “Pink Out” was given to the Gonzales Relay for Life, which supports research, education and survivor services through the American Cancer Society.

After a conversation between the then Foundation Director, Connie Kacir, and Cheer Sponsors, Michele Dolezal and Lena Hernandez, they wanted to find a more direct way to make a difference in the community by keeping the funds local.

Their first thought was to donate to the Foundation’s fundraising campaign for the hospital’s Jane Johnson Center. When they discovered the funding goal had already been reached, the cheerleading group narrowed down their focus to helping the women of Gonzales County with free mammograms. They knew that any of these women could be their next door neighbor, a friend or a loved one.

Since then, the hospital has given dozens and dozens of women a mammogram screening, and as Lindner says, lives are being saved by cheerleaders. In one case, a survivor met with the cheerleaders to personally thank them for saving her life through early detection.

Kristy Garcia and Kasey Spahn are Mammogram Technologists at the Jane Johnson Center. They say that after women get their mammograms on the 3D machine, they go to the Wall of Cheer to see if they know any of the Apache Cheerleaders or sponsors who are listed on the plaques.

“We’ve had several cheerleaders with a family member who has had cancer, and that only makes them more passionate about doing their part for awareness and giving back to the community,” says Cheer Sponsor Lena Hernandez. “Selling the t-shirts is a lot of work, but they don’t complain because they know it’s an important part of our program. We ask them to sell a minimum number of t-shirts, but the majority exceed that number by a lot.”

So the next time you see an Apache cheerleader selling a shirt, you’ll know the true value of making a purchase.

“Cheerleading is an expensive sport and these girls and boys could be raising money for themselves and the team. But instead, they are doing it for those with a greater need,” says Lindner. “I’m really proud of these students and their families. When you can encourage altruism at an early age, you’ll have volunteers for life. These cheerleaders are like angels to me.”

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