COVINGTON - Wendi Martinez was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, when she was pregnant with her first child.
Thirteen years later, she calls herself, "incredibly blessed."
Martinez underwent treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy while pregnant and, having caught her cancer early, made a full recovery.
Told she would never have more children, she is now a mother of three.
"I would never wish cancer on anybody, and I don't want to get it again, but I can't imagine my life without my diagnosis because of the people I've met," she said.
Wanting to bring hope to cancer patients and survivors and awareness to the community at large, last year Martinez and other volunteers with the Women's Diagnostic Center at Newton Medical Center started Portraits of Hope.
During October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they hang portraits of local women who have survived the disease around the Square in downtown Covington, along with their stories of triumph.
The community response was overwhelming, according to Kay Goff, a patient advocate at the hospital.
This year, the portraits of 10 more survivors have been added, bringing the total to 36. Due to the large turnout at a reception honoring the ladies last year, this year the event has been moved to the Newton County Historic Courthouse and will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday.
One of the survivors will tell her story, each woman will be recognized and honored with a pink rose and Shades of Pink Breast Cancer Survivors Choir from DeKalb County will perform.
"We not only want to honor these survivors, who have the most unbelievable strength to go through the journeys they've been through, but to bring awareness into the community that they have to take care of themselves," Goff said.
Martinez said that many women simply get too busy to keep up with mammograms and self-exams, and she's hoping this event will be a reminder.
"(Cancer) really doesn't discriminate. You have to be on top of your own health. You are your best advocate. You have to be in touch with your body - you know it best," she said.
The reception will also serve as a fundraiser for the Diagnostic Center. Donations will be accepted to purchase equipment for the center or supplies for Hope Boutique, a service that provides cancer patients with free prostheses, wigs, turbans, scarves and other items they may need during treatment.
Goff founded Hope Boutique after noticing a breast cancer patient with socks stuffed into her bra. The woman told Goff she couldn't afford a prosthesis. Many cancer patients may not have insurance at all, and if they do, the deductible may be too high for them to afford, Goff said.
The boutique was started with grant money and is maintained through donations.
For more information, call Goff at 770-786-7053.
The Women's Diagnostic Center has also been hosting free forums to educate women about breast cancer, with the next one scheduled from noon to
2 p.m. Oct. 22, in the Physician's Pavilion at Newton Medical.
For more information on upcoming forums, call 770-385-7800.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.