Families Helping Families

A family breast-cancer diagnosis spurred two teens to action, and a charity was born.

Photo by John Emerson.

For any family, a breast-cancer diagnosis elicits shock, anger, disbelief, depression and more. For two local teens, it was a call to action. In 2006, after cousins Michael Ruane and Erika Rech witnessed the toll that breast cancer diagnoses were taking on two members of their family, they decided to form Breast Friends Forever (breastfriendsforever.org), a charity to help other families endure the same struggle.

The teens, both Middletown natives and just 15 years old at the time, started small. They chose the name together. The logo—two breast-cancer ribbons holding hands—was Rech’s idea. They each scraped together $500 from birthday and confirmation gifts to have bracelets and T-shirts made that they began selling at church. The money they took in helped offset medical, transportation and other expenses incurred by those dealing with the disease.

“We knew how large a burden it was, economically and emotionally,” says Ruane.

Five years later, the two have turned the initial $1,000 into donations totalling more than $210,000. The money has gone directly to helping 400 to 500 families. Ruane and Rech hold 20 to 30 fundraising events each year, including an annual gala that began in 2007.

“There have been women whose husbands have just died, who have no insurance and no money and are about to lose their houses,” says Ruane. “It’s really great to be able to help them.” BFF has made mortgage payments, covered utility bills, paid for transportation to and from medical appointments and much more.

“These women are selfless,” says Rech. “They ask us what they can do and how they can pay us back. We just tell them to pay it forward.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” she adds. “Maybe that’s why it happened, so that Mike and I could make a difference.” Her mother, who suffered from stage three breast cancer, and an aunt, who was in stage two, are both in remission.

Rech and Ruane are now college sophomores attending Villanova and Rutgers, respectively. The copresidents hold meetings via Skype and rely on their board, comprised of family members, and their large support network to keep BFF going.

In addition to raising money, BFF promotes breast-cancer awareness through its Check Yourself Out initiative, which educates high school girls about breast cancer and asks them to commit to doing breast self-exams. The two ultimately hope to establish BFF chapters across the state and even the nation. After all, they say, it isn’t just New Jersey that needs help.

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