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Bridget Lanahan, of Reisterstown, remembers the first time she met Stacey Davis. It was 2004. Davis had walked into the salon where Lanahan worked for a trim. She made an immediate impression on everyone in the room.

"She was beautiful, just a gorgeous personality," Lanahan said. "You just were drawn to her."

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After Davis left, Lanahan's supervisor, Dawn DeMario, informed Lanahan and her co-workers Davis was battling breast cancer and had undergone a double mastectomy. She had come in to get her wig trimmed.

"We were all in shock because you never would have guessed from seeing this woman," Lanahan said.

Davis returned to the salon as she battled the disease, and Lanahan came to see her as an inspiration. Lanahan credits Davis with igniting her own sense of faith.

"Every time she came in she would say hi to me and I could progressively see what the cancer was doing to her and what an awesome attitude she had," she said. "She was very spiritual. She believed in the Lord, she had such a faith that I was drawn to. Even to the end, she was always smiling and present and kept her faith."

Davis lost her battle with breast cancer on Oct. 11, 2004, and DeMario, who had known Davis since 2000, decided to do something to honor Davis' memory and to keep her spirit alive in Carroll County. In 2005, DeMario launched the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund, which provides grants to local women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

"The fund was established to perpetuate the ideals of Stacey's character by providing grants to local women and their families who are battling breast cancer," DeMario said. "She was always very, very giving. She would give her time and resources to anybody and everybody no matter what their needs were."

The fund gives grants of $1,500 and $3,000, depending on financial need, which can then be used for anything from paying for medical bills to cosmetics, according to DeMario. Some grants have been used for groceries, transportation, house care, co-pays, prostheses, wigs and other personal needs of women undergoing treatment.

"We hold the income bar very high, so we are not turning people away. If they have cancer and live in Carroll County, we give them money," DeMario said. "Even someone making $100,000 per year, if they do not have insurance, they can be experiencing hardship."

The fund is supported by an annual fundraising event, the Hair Ball, a prom-like formal evening that references that Davis was at one time a hairstylist herself. This year's event was held on Saturday, Oct. 11.

The fund also receives support from numerous small fundraisers and contributions from the community throughout the year, including DeMario's new business, The Spa at Roop's Mill, in Westminster, which is also where women can pick up grant applications.

"The community really rallies around this fund. I really do believe that it's because the money stays local," DeMario said. "You could be standing in the line at the grocery store and the woman in front of you could be dealing with breast cancer. People that you brush arms with every day, this money is going to them."

Reeling from the unexpected

Lanahan eventually moved on from hairdressing, going to back to school and becoming a radiation therapist.

As she began treating patients at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Lanahan said Davis's memory inspired her in her practice, realizing that not everything had to be cold, clinical and sterile, but that the warmth of getting to know a patient, of building a relationship not only helped the patients, but also made her work more rewarding.

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Lanahan also continued to raise money for the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund, attending the Hair Ball every year even though she was no longer a hairdresser. But she never dreamed she would one day need help from the fund herself.

Lanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2010, and despite having insurance, the sizable co-payments associated with her expensive treatments were a heavy stress on her and her husband.

"Dawn said, 'You should apply for the grant,' and I was like 'No, that's for really sick people.' But she said we could use it or anything," Lanahan said. "We applied and got a half grant and it helped us pay bills and it really it made it feel like the community is there for you."

Community focused from the start

When DeMario first broached the idea of doing something in Stacey's memory to Stacey's husband, Aaron Davis, she had been thinking of establishing a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a national nonprofit that funds breast cancer research. It was Aaron who raised the idea of doing something with a greater local focus — a community fund for women and families in Carroll County.

"I said, you know, Susan G. Komen has raised millions and millions of dollars. Billions have been invested in cancer research ... why don't we do something for women that are suffering when they get a diagnosis? They've got medical bills they can't pay, they can't get the kids to day care, just all kinds of stuff," Aaron said. "Let's try to help them out right here and try to keep the money local.'"

Aaron serves as one of the volunteers on the grants committee of the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund, reviewing grant applications and approving disbursements. The small scale of the fund and the fact that the administration is handled by the Community Foundation of Carroll County allows them to be extremely efficient with the money that is donated to the fund, he said.

"[The Community Foundation] charges us 2 percent to administer the entire fund," he said. "If someone comes in and hands me a check for $1,000, and says, 'I want to give this to the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund,' $980 of that goes out to women."

Besides the annual Hair Ball, a number of local businesses and organizations contribute to the fund every year, according to DeMario. A number of schools have "pink out" sports games, where the concession proceeds are donated to the fund.

Over the past four years, Northwest Middle School in Taneytown has held a student fundraising drive during the first week of October to benefit the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund, according to Jeff Cook, the assistant principal. The school had managed to raise $500 over the past three years, but this year raised $654 in a week, an increase Cook attributes to a special deal he made with the student body.

"What we decided to do to encourage the students to participate was at the beginning of the week, we told the students if they raised $500, that I and [Principal Angela McCauslin] would dye our hair pink at the end of the week," Cook said. "We held our part of the bargain."

The last time the Davis fund ran its numbers, Aaron said, it had given $180,000 to 125 women over 10 years, but that was several months ago. He suspects the totals are rapidly closing in on 130 women and $200,000.

An integrated part of cancer care

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Many of those women may have been handed applications for the fund when they first arrived at Carroll Hospital Center and received a diagnosis of breast cancer, according to Andrea Grooms, a medical assistant at the hospital's Center for Breast Health.

"I would say roughly one out of every five of our women is given a grant application because the need is so great," she said. "It's not only the co-pays, but simple things: The medications are quite expensive ... their loss from work is a great loss. A lot of our women are single moms and if they are not, they are at least two income families that have now lost an income."

The fund has become an integrated aspect of cancer care at the hospital, according to Grooms. While there are other funds they can make use of, it has been the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer fund that is the most flexible and readily available.

"It's really nice to know that Stacey Davis is here and that theirs is a one-on-one — each time you send something in they will be able to grant that based on the need," Grooms said. "We try not to abuse it, of course, but there are so many women that need it and some women are needier than others."

Permission to dream

In 2012, Lanahan and her husband were trying to start a family, but it appeared her cancer treatment had affected her fertility. DeMario urged her to apply for a second grant to help pay for fertility treatments.

"I said, 'Oh, the fund is not for that,' and she was like, 'We give people money for wigs, of course we would help you have a child,'" Lanahan said.

Lanahan applied and got that second grant, but shortly after beginning fertility treatments, she found the lump in her other breast. She had to undergo the double mastectomy that led to her being cancer-free today. The fertility treatments did not work, however, and Lanahan said she will never conceive a child.

It's not a traditional happy ending, Lanahan said, but she is happy. Today she is still working as a radiation therapist, but works closer to home at the new William E. Kahlert Cancer Center at Carroll Hospital Center. It's a facility she said embodies the warmth and personal interrelation that Stacey Davis taught her was so important for someone dealing with cancer. Stacey Davis and the fund that bears her name gave Lanahan a second chance at life, a chance to continue living life in the same spirit in which Stacey lived it, giving of herself to others and a chance to dream.

"When you are diagnosed with cancer, your dreams are just shattered," Lanahan said. "To have that second grant and even try for a family, my husband and I could start dreaming again, even if that dream didn't come true. There are children out there. One day we will have a family."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

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