Sun Health Foundation Helping Terminally Ill Cancer Patient Raise Funds to Improve Early Detection of Breast Cancer

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Reba Mason has helped raise more than $19,000 to improve the detection of breast cancer despite dealing with the daily ravages of her own terminal breast cancer.

(L-R) Courtney Ophaug, Regina Sheets, Reba Mason, Tim O'Dell and Bonnie Olsen with a 3D mammography unit. Ophaug, Sheets and O'Dell work for Banner Health. Olsen works for Sun Health Foundation.

As long as I’m alive, I want to do everything I can to help women get diagnosed earlier.

With fiery auburn hair, piercing eyes and a restless spirit bordering on impatience, Reba Mason personifies a Texas tornado.

The petite Texas native is on a whirlwind mission, funneling her energy into educating women about the importance of getting regular screening mammograms, especially 3D mammograms, a significantly more accurate breast cancer detection method than 2D mammography.

But Reba hasn’t stopped there. Working with Sun Health Foundation and her employer Texas Roadhouse of Peoria, she has raised more than $19,000 to pay for uninsured or underinsured women to get 3D screening mammograms through Banner Lakes Medical Imaging Center — part of Banner Boswell Medical Center in Sun City. The fund has been dubbed the “Pink Roadhouse Mammo Fund.” Sun Health Foundation is accepting and managing donations.

“As long as I’m alive, I want to do everything I can to help women get diagnosed earlier,” said Mason, who moved to Arizona in 2006.

Mason had a 2D mammography in 2011 which led to a diagnosis of breast cancer. She was devastated by the news but not entirely surprised. She and about a dozen other family members carry the BRCA2 estrogen receptor-positive gene, which greatly increases the risk of developing the disease. Her mother, Marla Sue Mason, lived with breast cancer for 18 years before passing away in 2014. "My mother was fond of the phrase, 'Fight like a girl' and I take my strength from her," she says.

Mason chose to have a double mastectomy, which was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She was cancer-free for three months but it came roaring back, this time spreading to other parts of her body. Since then, the cancer has been a relentless foe.

Following her doctors’ advice, Mason countered with more surgery, chemo, radiation and medications to slow the progression, all while working full time as a marketing manager at Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Peoria. Her managers, co-workers and customers have been very supportive. The restaurant has hosted multiple fundraisers and several of the company’s leaders made generous donations to the cause. Mason often shows up to fundraisers in black cowboy boots with pink trim, a pink tutu, a pink firefighter’s hat, and pink wrist bands, which she designed.

Her vision came into sharp focus in 2013 when she met Gina Sheets, marketing manager for Banner Lakes Imaging Center, which had just installed a 3D mammography unit. The two became fast friends and co-developed the Mammo Fund initiative. On top of everything else, Mason puts together gift baskets that she delivers to cancer patients to lift their spirits.

"Reba is an extraordinary woman," Sheets said. "I don’t know how she does it? She runs circles around me despite all that she’s going through. She is definitely my hero."

SHF Development Director Bonnie Olsen feels similarly. “I was meeting with a friend who had faced a breast cancer scare in her life. After hearing about Reba’s mission, she asked me right away if she could contribute.”

Mason has led a Texas-sized life. She grew up on a farm near Fort Worth, Texas, the only girl among five brothers. She was practically born on a horse and competed in rodeos for years. She was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader for four years in the ‘80s, which allowed her to travel the world as part of USO tours, many led by Bob Hope. She worked as an on-air personality for a country music station. And, she claims she’s done every job you can think of in the restaurant business. Along the way, she got married and had three children, two sons (ages 30 and 24) and a daughter (27), all of whom are her pride and joy. She later divorced.

Mason's mission has taken on greater urgency with recent news from her oncologists at Banner MD Anderson that her cancer is terminal. She draws strength from her children and friends, including a new man in her life. But her biggest inspiration is her late mother who like Reba, faced her terminal cancer with courage and a determination to help others do the same.

“My mom always told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop believing.”

To donate to the Pink Roadhouse Mammo Fund go to http://www.sunhealth.org/foundation

About Sun Health
A long-standing community partner championing healthy living, Sun Health is a nonprofit organization providing pathways to population health through philanthropy, senior living, community programs and superior health care. Sun Health Foundation, part of Sun Health, provides philanthropic support to two medical centers (Banner Boswell and Banner Del E. Webb), the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, as well as Sun Health’s community wellness programs and its three senior living Life Care communities. Learn more at http://www.sunhealth.org

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John Tucker
Sun Health
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Ken Reinstein
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