Healthy Living

'Breast friends for life': Iowa City fundraising team stands together against breast cancer

Breast cancer survivor Rose Roger sits with Team Breast Friends founders Patty Frantz and Maria Fobian behind the wheel
Breast cancer survivor Rose Roger sits with Team Breast Friends founders Patty Frantz and Maria Fobian behind the wheel of Team Breast Friends’ custom-decaled golf cart at a past golf outing. (Submitted photo)
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When Patty Frantz’s best friend from high school was diagnosed with breast cancer a number of years ago, she wanted to help.

She talked with her friend, Maria Fobian, and the two Iowa City women recruited a handful of other friends to join a three-day Susan G. Komen Walk in Chicago to raise money for breast cancer research. They called their team Iowa City Hope.

“What’s really weird is, we started fundraising for breast cancer, and I didn’t know anybody who ever had it,” said Fobian, 57. “Patty said, ‘You know what, we need to give back to the community,’ and I said, ‘You’re right.’”

In a strange twist of fate, a couple of months later, Fobian’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 75 and died from it five years later.

“It ticks you off. But that’s what pushes us to raise more money because we don’t want anybody to have to go through all the feelings and all that stuff that we’ve had to gothrough,” Fobian said.

Over the next six years, the group — who had changed its name to Team Breast Friends — continued to walk and fundraise for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. However, they started to dream about the impact they could have locally with the money they were raising.

“We were raising $25,000 just to walk for three days, and we were like, ‘Whoa, that could help a lot of people right here,’ ” said Frantz, 68.

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Team Breast Friends organized as a nonprofit in 2014. Since then, Frantz estimates the team has raised $325,000 to benefit patients and hospitals in the Corridor.

Their Breast Health Fund at Mercy Iowa City helps pay for mammograms, biopsies or any other diagnostics for patients who lack health insurance. Every year, they donate $10,000 to the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center in Cedar Rapids.

They’re able to choose where the money goes. Some has paid for comfort garments not covered by insurance, educational books and exercise and nutrition classes. They are working towards a $50,000 endowment to the University of Iowa Foundation to fund breast cancer research.

They also offer individual grants of $500 to $1,000 to patients diagnosed in the past five years through their website, teambreastfriends.org (under the “Funding Requests” tab).

“They can do whatever they need with that money,” Frantz said. “If they have to make a car payment or if they can’t pay their utility bill or they have to buy groceries, we don’t care. We just want to try to make their journey more comfortable.”

Team Breast Friends usually has three major fundraisers every year: a Drive Away Breast Cancer golf outing in April, a Plants for the Cure plant and vendor sale at the 4H Fairgrounds in May, and a 5K Rack Run in October. Although they were not able to hold their plant sale or 5K this year due to the pandemic, their golf outing raised more than $18,000, and they are planning other small fundraisers such as gift wrapping at Coral Ridge Mall over the holidays.

And, as they have become more well-known, they also have become the recipients of other fundraisers.

The Riverside Casino & Golf Resort hosted a golf tournament in October and donated the proceeds from a putting game to the group. Liberty High School’s volleyball team holds an annual game that benefits the group and also wears its logo on their jerseys. A few years ago, the Tuesday night women’s league at Brown Deer Golf Course in Coralville contacted them about donating the proceeds from their annual Pink Night.

“They would usually send the money to Komen or the (American) Cancer Society. When they heard about us, they were like, ‘Oh, it stays right here — well, we live here, we make our money here, we want to support people that need treatment here in the community.’ So they’ve partnered with us now for three or four years,” Frantz said.

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Team Breast Friends has 18 board members and a number of supporters who help at events. Gail Maher, 63, of Iowa City, is one of three breast cancer survivors on the board.

“I’ve known Maria and Patty forever, and I’d been wanting to join Team Breast Friends, but it really pushed me after I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Maher said. “I went through my chemo and then come fall the following year, I was in the 5K run. They had a team for me, Team Gail.”

Maher now runs the plant sale. She approaches friends to see who needs hostas and lilies divided, then takes donations and buys annuals and vegetables for the sale. Many garden centers and greenhouses either donate the plants or offer them at cost.

Frantz’s daughter, Jill Donnenwerth, has been with the team since its third year and is now on the board.

“I had seen all these pictures, they were always telling me how much fun it was,” said Donnenwerth, 38, of Tiffin.

Like many on the board, she works full-time. And she has three young children.

“There was a point when all of us were working full-time and trying to do this on the side, and it’s hard. So there were times when we kind of had to push through,” Donnenwerth said.

Although some board members have rotated in and out as family commitments came up, with Fobian and Frantz leading the way, there’s no talk of slowing down, only growing.

“I have three daughters, and I don’t want to ever hear them say, ‘I have breast cancer.’ I think that’s probably the driving force,” Frantz said.

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“We will work this until there’s a cure. I promised my mom that I would do that,” Fobian said. “It’s nothing that I even have to think about doing. I just do it.

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