Cousins Mike Ruane and Erika Rech are gearing up for a round of heavy fundraising for Breast Friends Forever, the non-profit they created as high school freshmen. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Rech’s mother was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer. Six months later, two more women in the family were diagnosed with the disease.
“We were surrounded by chemo and radiation,” Rech said.
In response, the two raised $1,000 in a local Relay For Life fundraiser, but wanted to do more. So they did some research and a lot of legwork and, by 2007, were founders of a non-profit, Breast Friends Forever.
Perhaps even harder to fathom than the odds of three family members being diagnosed with breast cancer in such a short timeframe: Rech and Ruane were both only 15 years old when they founded the non-profit.
Now 19 years old, Ruane and Rech are working their way through college and overseeing an organization that’s spawned chapters in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Georgia and Pennsylvania and has raised more than $150,000 for more than 100 struggling families dealing with mounting medical and home bills.
On break from school Ruane attends Rutgers University and Rech goes to Villanova the cousins are gearing up for a summer full of fundraising events.
Most 19-year-olds would be hard pressed to top their ‘how I spent my summer vacation’ stories.
There’s the woman from Middletown who had seven children and an unemployed husband. Skyrocketing medical costs for cancer treatment prohibited them from paying their heating bill. Breast Friends Forever cut them a check to keep the heat on.
There’s the woman whose cancer became untreatable, and after receiving donations from Rech and Ruane, left a letter to be read at her funeral asking that people donate to Breast Friends Forever because the organization had helped her through her struggle.
“A lot of these women are really selfless,” Rech said. “They’re always asking, ‘how can we pay you back?’ And we tell them to just pay it forward.”
That’s the mission of Breast Friends Forever, which gained national attention last year when the magazine Family Circle profiled Ruane and Rech. What started as an effort to help their family has morphed into full-time jobs for the cousins, who spend what little free time they have attending board meetings, seeking out sponsors and coordinating fundraisers.
While the two are at school, the bulk of the responsibilities are handed off to family members. Ruane and Rech correspond with them by phone, email and Skype to handle the organization’s business.
“Without all the help we get from our family and the volunteers, we couldn’t do this,” Ruane said.
The cousins are happy to report that all three of their diagnosed family members are cancer-free. Their mission, however, will continue as long as it takes, Rech said.
“Hopefully it’s not ending until we find a cure,” she said.
Breast Friends Forever accepts donations through its website. Upcoming fundraisers include Cocktails For A Cause Wednesday night at The Wine Bar in Atlantic Highlands and Fun In The Sun carnival Friday at Middletown High School North.