By Carlotta Grandstaff
This year an estimated 252,710 American women, one in eight, will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Last July, Jean Schurman was one of them.
Schurman, life-long resident of Victor, mother, grandmother, widow, high school rodeo barrel racer, sports editor and advertising salesperson for the Bitterroot Star, friend and neighbor to many and community volunteer, is also a founder of one of the events in the Sprinkle Pink breast cancer awareness fundraiser held every October.
Sponsored by Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and numerous businesses in the Bitterroot Valley, Sprinkle Pink raises money through a variety of events for its Aid for Mammography Fund.
When the Bitterroot Star partnered with MDMH in support of Sprinkle Pink several years ago, Schurman jumped on board as a volunteer because, well, as Schurman says, “You know me, I volunteer for anything.”
But at first, Schurman was not a natural fit with Sprinkle Pink. “The things they were doing (to raise money for mammograms) I didn’t really have any connection to, like style shows and dining out.”
Indeed. You might say Schurman is more cowgirl than runway girl.
At one point Schurman, who also serves as a volunteer on the county fair board, had helped coordinate a barrel-racing event to raise money for fairgrounds improvement. That put her in touch with barrel racing organizers Jamie Harberts and Tammy Lemon. It was the connection Schurman was looking for. In 2014 all three women agreed to apply their organizational skills and barrel racing contacts to a Sprinkle Pink barrel racing fundraiser.
In 2014, the first year for Sprinkle Pink’s Turn and Burn barrel racing fundraiser, 110 contestants competed for buckles, points and money. The next year saw 135 contestants, and 2016 brought 179 barrel-racing cowgirls to town. This year’s event promises to draw a bigger group of contestants than last year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have over 200 this year,” says Schurman. “The event has taken on a life of its own. The race has a PeeWee section, Youth, Adult and Senior (over 50).”
“It’s not just for women,” Schurman adds. “Men can compete too. A local barrel racer came forward this year and wanted to put on a men’s Pink race as well. I don’t how many will be involved, but all proceeds will go to Sprinkle Pink. It just builds. It’s really cool.”
It also put Schurman, a former Victor High School rodeo barrel racer, back in touch with her own roots.
Last year, the Turn and Burn barrel-racing event brought in $11,000. After paying expenses and purses, $4,200 went to Sprinkle Pink for its mammography fund.
Schurman does not miss the irony here. For the last three years, she’s raised money to help local women pay for a diagnostic test for a disease she never expected to be battling herself.
Last July, after finding a lump in her breast, she received a diagnosis that set her on a path no one wants to walk.
“You have that, ‘why me?’ thought. There’s absolutely no breast cancer in my family. None.”
When she speculates on that “why me” she comes up with her own diagnosis about why she does what she does with Sprinkle Pink: “I think it’s to raise awareness.” With the loss of her best and lifelong friend to cancer last year, making other people aware of their health is an especially poignant task she’s given herself.
After receiving her diagnosis, Schurman, like so many women before her, found herself treading a fast treadmill, trying to keep up. But trying to keep up with what, she didn’t know. If you’ve never had a cancer diagnosis, she says, you quickly learn that you don’t know what you don’t know. And the last thing you want to do is peruse the yellow pages for an oncologist and begin setting up your own confusing round of appointments.
Fortunately, the staff at MDMH did know what Schurman didn’t, and they put her on a head-spinning path to a Missoula oncologist and other specialists, setting up appointments for her that an hour earlier she didn’t know she’d need. Before she even arrived home she had received a call from a breast cancer advocate.
“This has been a learning process, looking into it from the inside.
“Marcus Daly is doing this to save lives. I think that’s just tremendous. It’s very comforting to know you’re not just a number.”
Schurman has had three surgeries and one of four chemotherapy treatments, and when she completes the final one, she’ll undergo a mastectomy.
“My prognosis is very good, but the journey is going to be rough.”
The entire journey back to health has been “eye opening.” Two breast cancer survivors she knows text her routinely, checking up on her. Her son and his wife live next door and check on her regularly, as do her neighbors. Her daughter in Spokane makes the trip back to Victor to visit her mom regularly.
“The universe moves in strange ways,” she says. “I’m laughing through it as best I can.”
The Sprinkle Pink Turn and Burn barrel race will take place on Sunday, October 29 at the Sapphire Event Center north of Corvallis on the East Side Highway. A silent auction opens the event at 10 a.m.
Readers might be wondering…
The Bitterroot Star and Jean’s many friends are planning a fundraiser for her in the near future to help defray medical costs and related expenses. Watch for details in upcoming issues of the Star. Donations can also be sent directly to Jean Schurman, c/o Bitterroot Star, P.O. Box 8, Stevensville MT 59870.