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BGH Foundation readies for 15th annual Heart Ball

by PATTY HUTCHENS / Bonner General Health Foundatio
| December 27, 2022 1:00 AM

Sandpoint resident Cassie Watters knows all too well that one’s life can be changed in an instant.

At the age of 34, she was a young mother to 2-year-old Granger and enjoying life with her precious son. But that all changed with a medical diagnosis.

In January 2020, Watters was breastfeeding her baby when she felt a lump. Believing it was a clogged milk duct, Watters went on to focus on her new role as a mom. But, one year later, she came to discover it was cancer.

While recovering from open-heart surgery to repair a valve that had been damaged during her pregnancy, Watters noticed the lump in her breast had become more prominent. A mammogram was performed at Bonner General Health the next day, followed by a biopsy a few days later. The diagnosis was stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones and liver.  

Watters' initial treatment involved six rounds of chemotherapy. Afterward, her scans showed no evidence of active disease in her breast or in her bones and liver where it had metastasized. Then, approximately six weeks later, Watters began to experience headaches. Her oncologist immediately ordered an MRI of Watters’ brain, which revealed four tumors, one very close to her right optic nerve.

“Five days later, I was at Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., receiving gamma knife surgery. It was an in-and-out procedure, and I was hiking the next day,” said Watters, who credits Hannah Badger of Sandpoint Women's Health for the transition to New Mexico. “Without her, I truly would be suffering.”

Watters said the urgency with which Sandpoint Women’s Health responded to her symptoms is the reason that her cancer did not spread even further.

“The schedule was very busy, but the staff at Sandpoint Women’s Health advocated for me to get in immediately. If it wasn’t for their staff, who knows how much more the cancer would have spread,” said Watters.

Unfortunately, not everyone can obtain their mammogram at Bonner General Health so promptly.

"Due to our population growth, there are unfulfilled screening mammogram orders in our system. This means there is likely undiagnosed breast cancer in our community,” said Daniel Holland, director of Diagnostic Imaging at Bonner General Health.

Bonner General Health Foundation is hoping to change all that. The Foundation’s 15th annual Heart Ball’s primary focus is to raise funds for an additional mammogram machine, which will allow the Diagnostic Imaging department to perform 20 additional mammograms each day.

“The addition of a new mammography machine will decrease wait times and increase capacity for both screening and diagnostic mammograms, which will result in lives saved,” said Holland.

This year’s Heart Ball will be held Feb. 4, and the board is thrilled to announce that it will be in-person this year, at the Bonner County Fairgrounds. It's an elegant evening with a gourmet dinner served by Pack River Store, dancing, a dessert auction and an exciting live auction.

“We had an amazing two years hosting the Heart Ball virtually, but everyone is eager to gather together again and celebrate our 15th annual Heart Ball,” said board member and Heart Ball Chair Georgia Simmons.

This year's auction items have something for everyone, including, but not limited to, international travel, family adventures and staycations.

There are several opportunities to participate in and support the ball. Businesses and individuals can purchase a table of eight or a table of 10. There are also various sponsorship opportunities available.

Since its revival 15 years ago, the foundation, with the incredible support of the community, has raised over $1.4 million for Bonner General Health. The foundation currently has three different items for which it is raising funds. The Find Your Strength 5K/1K Family Fun Run last summer kicked off the campaign for an exoskeleton for Bonner General Health’s Physical Therapy Department. It is a state-of-the-art therapeutic device that assists those who have lost their ability to walk. Another project is the Hometown Health Grants, which raises money for internal grants for various departments’ needs that are not covered by the operating budget. In November, $40,000 in grants were awarded.

“The generosity of our donors has led the way to creating healthier futures for our patients and community. These individuals understand the importance and uniqueness of our hometown hospital,” said Molly Behrens, community development and foundation specialist for Bonner General Health. “The excellent care given inside our doors would not be possible without their support.”

As for Watters, she expressed her gratitude for the community support she has received in her ongoing journey. She received her cancer care at Kootenai Health's Clinic located at Bonner General Health and said everyone was amazing. "The nurses are angels," said Watters, adding that everyone from the scheduling department to the social workers were instrumental in her getting to where she is today.

She urges others to advocate for their health and says mammograms are essential to detect this horrific disease and encourages people to support the Heart Ball's mission this year.

“I was a busy mom with 10,000 things to think and worry about, and if I had put myself a little higher on that list, maybe cancer would be in my past,” said Watters. “It is essential to prioritize your health; no one else will do that for you. As a young woman, I believe it is even more important. Breast cancer does not care how old you are, what your finances are like or who you are taking care of. It's up to you to be an advocate for yourself.”

To learn more about the 15th annual Heart Ball and the Bonner General Health Foundation, go to BonnerGeneral.org/Foundation. You may also contact Molly Behrens at 208.265.1005 or email her at molly.behrens@bonnergeneral.org.

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(Courtesy photo)

Sandpoint resident Cassie Watters knows all too well that one’s life can be changed in an instant. At the age of 34, she was a young mother to 2-year-old Granger and enjoying life with her precious son. But that changed when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

photo

(Courtesy photo)

Among the primary focus of Bonner General Health Foundation's 15th annual Heart Ball’s is to raise funds for an additional mammogram machine, which will allow the Diagnostic Imaging department to perform 20 additional mammograms each day.

photo

(Courtesy photo)

Among the primary focus of Bonner General Health Foundation's 15th annual Heart Ball’s is to raise funds for an additional mammogram machine, which will allow the Diagnostic Imaging department to perform 20 additional mammograms each day.