New foundation hopes to beat breast cancer


Members of the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation set up a sign-up booth for the Breast Cancer Run/Walk, taking place on Oct. 28.

Dylan Austin

The First Annual High Country Walk/Run for Breast Cancer will be held this upcoming Saturday in Blowing Rock. The walk, which is being organized by High Country Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., will go from 9 a.m. until noon starting and finishing at the American Legion Hall.

The president/founder of HCBCF, Irene Sawyer, a six-year breast cancer survivor, said she started the foundation in February as a way of giving back to others. Sawyer had been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which is treatable though it has no known cure.

“What happens is they throw everything they’ve got at you,” Sawyer said. “So instead of having maybe 30 days or six months of chemotherapy, I had 18 months just going through the various chemos. And I kept going through the chemotherapy, and I was expecting to throw up. I was expecting to be nauseous. I was expecting all these things and this pain to happen and these things never came.”

The reason that was, explained to Sawyer by her doctors, is because every patient who had come before her provided invaluable research in experiencing these relatively painless treatments.

“So, I kept having what I call my HR factor: this haunting responsibility that I’ve been given that I knew halfway through my treatment that I had this responsibility that I need to make sure I’m giving back to those people who helped me survive this,” Sawyer said, “to make sure the people that come after me have better treatments.”

Sawyer had previously been a board member at cancer hospitals in Columbus, Ohio before coming to the High Country two and a half years ago. She said she finally discovered what her calling was after discovering the community did not have any sort of major fundraising event for the disease. Sawyer quickly got to work planning and acquiring permission to hold the walk.

“When I went before town council and presented my idea, it was a unanimous ‘yes, we want you to do it’ but they gave me one caveat and I was really nervous waiting to hear what they were going to ask of me. They said ‘We want you to promise us, right here and now, that this will be an annual event,’” Sawyer said. “But I want you to be sure that you understand, our mission is to keep breast cancer awareness going on throughout the year.”

One of the HCBCF board members, Joanie Venza, said there were already plans being made for future events. She also said that local businesses, such as Appalachian Mountain Brewery, were gathering money to donate to the foundation. Venza is also a breast cancer survivor of 11 years.

Both Sawyer and Venza adamantly said that everyone at the foundation are 100 percent volunteers with all proceeds going to families located in the high country.

Cody Hawkins, the third board member, said the event was going to be exciting for those participating in the walk as well as people who want to donate money without exercising.

Hawkins said that there will be face-painters and hula hoopers at the event along with barbecue, burgers and brews for everyone to eat. Starbucks coffee will be available as well.

Hawkins also said sponsors of the event will be present in the legion hall for people to meet with.

The foundation board said 150 participants were currently signed up though they were hopeful for 200.

Excited for the event, Sawyer still stressed their reason for creating it was to help people of the local community. Partnering with local hospitals, HCBCF will vet patients to determine financial needs for surgeries and procedures as well as often overlooked needs such as travel expenses or child care for the families of patients.

“No matter where you are in your cancer journey, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together,” Venza said.

Individuals can still donate or register for the event with a $20 fee at

Story By: Dylan Austin, News Reporter

Photo By: Submitted from High Country Breast Cancer Foundation