Brinegar walk

Alice Brinegar, center, leads walkers to the conclusion of the breast cancer awareness walk held in honor of her retirement Oct. 21 at Ottumwa Regional Health Center. Brinegar has worked in mammography for more than 40 years, most of which was at ORHC.

OTTUMWA — With no more Komen Race for the Cure and the pending retirement of longtime mammographer Alice Brinegar, Ottumwa Regional Health Center decided to fill the void by making Brinegar’s retirement party a breast cancer awareness walk.

“It’s not for me; it’s for breast cancer awareness,” said Brinegar after completing the walk around the hospital’s grounds the evening of Oct. 21. “It’s how they conned me into doing this.”

“She wanted something her patients could come to,” said ORHC marketing and communications coordinator Charity Howk. “She has such a passion for breast cancer awareness that it was a perfect fit for her.”

“My patients are part of my story. They’ve made me part of theirs,” Brinegar said, saying they’ve laughed, cried and even mourned together.

Over her 43 years in mammography, she’s seen a lot of changes, she said, such as the accuracy of the technology and the capability to catch cancer earlier, helping more people survive the disease.

“But to do that, we have to get the ladies in to do their mammograms,” she said.

Part of her passion for raising awareness stems from the loss of her own mother to breast cancer. Brinegar said her mom was a farm wife in the 1980s who didn’t have insurance. She knew she had a lump for a while but put off having it checked. “No woman should have to die because they don’t have health care,” Brinegar said. “People don’t understand, until they’ve experienced something like that, how expensive health care is, and that keeps people from coming.”

And that’s why she views her works as more than a job. “I want care and compassion for my patients. I want someone that this is a vocation for, not just a job,” Brinegar said of her successor.

In fact, a reminder of her mother, as well as her brother-in-law’s mother who died of a different type of cancer, was on full display during the walk: a pink tractor named Lu-Ida.

Around 50 walkers passed the Lu-Ida as they came around the final turn of the walk on an almost winter-like evening.

“It was a little colder than we would have liked, but I think everybody came out and enjoyed it just the same,” Howk said. Everybody that participated got a bag filled with educational materials on breast cancer and mammograms as well as a gift. A drawing for door prizes and refreshments came after the walk as well.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. Obviously, the weather’s a factor and it’s pretty chilly out, but we’re happy with the turnout,” Howk said. “Our goal is to make this a yearly event.”

“I think it went very well,” Brinegar said. “I think they need to try to do this again. It’s great for breast cancer awareness.”

Her last day at ORHC is scheduled to be Nov. 8, but she will stay on until they get somebody in her place and to aid in that transition. As for her future plans, they involve enjoying time at her country home and spending time with her grandkids. “They like sports, and I’m an avid fan of anything they get involved in,” she said.

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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