Lee Memorial Foundation hosts fifth-annual Tree of Love ceremony

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 4, 2015

As is often the case for the thousands of women who are diagnosed with the disease every year, when Dowagiac native Katie Hess was told given the prognosis more than 10 years ago that she had breast cancer, it turned her life upside.

Hess, who currently resides in St. Joseph, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 24. Unfortunately, she could not afford to put the rest of her life on hold while undergoing the intense chemotherapy needed to fight the disease.

While continuing to work full-time in order to retain her insurance policy, she and her then boyfriend decided to move ahead with their plans to wed, she said.

“I was married one year from the day I started chemo,” Hess said. “I was still bald, so I had to wear a wig — but it was perfect.”

While the treatment took its toll on her, the support of her friends and loved ones, as well as her sheer determination to make it through her condition, has allowed her to spend the last 12 years of her life cancer free.

Hess shared her story with the dozens of people huddled at Farr Park, just outside of Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital, Wednesday evening, during the Lee Memorial Foundation’s fifth-annual Tree of Love Ceremony. Following the remarks from her and other speakers during the brief presentation, organizers lit up a small Christmas tree near the hospital entrance, with its pink bulbs illuminating the chilly winter air that evening.

Started by the hospital foundation in 2011, the local Tree of Love campaign raises money from the community to completely cover the costs of cancer-detecting mammograms for low income, uninsured women visiting Borgess-Lee. This charity group is only a few hundred dollars short of reaching its $8,000 goal, which will pay for screenings for nearly 100 local residents, said Beth Cripe, development coordinator with the Lee Memorial Foundation.

“It’s a great cause, and all the money stays here in Cass County,” said Tom Carlson, chair of the foundation board of directors.

In spite of living a cancer-free life with her husband and three daughters, breast cancer continues to impact Hess’ family, as her mother and aunt have both been diagnosed within the past few years. In order to help them and other women who are dealing with the same tribulations she did years ago, Hess continues to support causes such as the Tree of Love, she said.

“No one should have to go through this, and feel that there is no hope,” Hess said.

The foundation will be accepting donations for the campaign through December. To contribute, people can the organization at (269) 783-3026.