The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 23, 2013

Annual Girls Night Out draws large crowd to combat breast cancer

JOHNSTOWN — Pink decorations, pink lighting and pink hair.

On Tuesday night, the seventh annual Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out fundraiser drew 763 women to the sold-out Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown.

All proceeds from the females-only event go to the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber and are used toward increasing breast cancer awareness and ensuring cutting-edge breast care for every woman in the area.

“Tickets sell out within a week,” said chairwoman Meghan Stahl-Skinner. “This is all for the breast care center, what I call the gem at the top of the hill.”

Stahl-Skinner was a friend to Taunia Oechslin, a breast cancer warrior who was diagnosed at age 36.

The two women met in 2003 when they worked together at the American Red Cross.

Oechslin was Stahl-Skinner’s boss, and the two became fast friends, even becoming pregnant at the same time with sons, who are now 9.

After a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006 at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, Oechslin received a clean bill of health and wanted to pay it forward.

Girls Night Out began in 2007 at Anthony’s Restaurant in Richland Township with 250 women and raised $19,000.

After a recurrence of Oechslin’s cancer in 2009, she lost her battle at age 39.

It was Oechslin’s goal for every woman to be educated about breast cancer, understand the value of early detection and receive proper treatment.

“We promised her we would continue to do this in her honor,” Stahl-Skinner said.

The event has brought in more than $335,000 to date and is the largest dinner event in Johnstown.

Oechslin’s goal was to raise $40,000 every year, a dollar for every woman in the United States who will lose her battle with breast cancer annually.

That goal has been surpassed with more than $57,000 raised last year and $55,000 raised two years ago.

Patty Felton, director of Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, said proceeds go to patient care services at the center, which can include breast imaging techniques such as mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs, as well as biopsies and surgeries.

“Sometimes insurance doesn’t cover something, such as genetic testing for breast cancer or breast and ovarian cancer syndromes,” Felton said. “In 2011, we lost funding from the Department of Defense, so events like this are more important than ever. It all stays local.”

Following the goal of the breast center to provide education and outreach to the community, gift bags for the evening included information on breast cancer education.

“We want to provide cutting-edge technology close to home,” Felton said. “It’s important to keep up our high level of care.”

Stahl-Skinner heads up a 25-woman committee, which begins its work before Christmas for the April event.

“They’re passionate and dedicated,” Felton said. “Some of them don’t even know Taunia.”

Stahl-Skinner said the evening couldn’t happen without generous donations from local businesses that contribute basket items and in-kind services.

The pinked-out evening featured a pink basket raffle, live and silent auctions, dinner and presentations by speakers on current technologies being used at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.

In honor of the event, the Stone Bridge was lit pink Tuesday night.

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