Emphasis on Local, BIGHORN BAM, The Desert Sun

Emphasis on Local, BIGHORN BAM, The Desert Sun


By Barrett Newkirk | The Desert Sun

When people asked Selby Dunham to take over planning an annual golf tournament to raise money for breast cancer research, she said yes — with a catch.

A Palm Desert resident diagnosed with stage-three invasive breast cancer in 2005 when she was 48, Dunham had already worked with friends at Bighorn Golf Club on a tournament to raise for Susan G. Komen, the well-known national breast cancer foundation. Then they wanted her to chair the 2007 tournament.

"I said, 'Great. I would be happy to do that. But things are going to change a little bit,'" Dunham said.

A"little" change has led to big help for thousands of Coachella Valley residents dealing with all kinds of cancers.

Instead of raising money for a national charity, Dunham lead the formation of Bighorn Behind a Miracle, or BAM, to exclusively support local cancer treatment and support organizations.

Over the ensuing eight years, BAM has raised $5.5 million through the golf tournament and other events. Roughly $4.5 million has gone to cancer services at Eisenhower Medical Center where Dunham underwent treatment.

"We want to make sure we have the best facilities and the best equipment and the best services that we can offer the people here," Dunham said.

Another major beneficiary has been the Palm Desert-based Pendleton Foundation, which helps area families with members undergoing cancer treatment pay for necessities like food, gas, utilities and rent.

In five years, BAM has given $420,000 to the Pendleton Foundation, making it the non-profit's largest donor and supporting roughly half of the 250 families Pendleton helps each year, said Pendleton Foundation President Sean Roberts.

"That donation spreads across the valley," Roberts said. "It ensures that we can meet the need that's been presented to us each year."

October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time Dunham said she relishes because all of the pink reminds people to get their routine mammograms, a key to early detection and successful treatment.

Next month will mark the beginning of BAM's fundraising season, which kicks off Nov. 21 with the Miracle on El Paseo. The season wraps up with the golf tournament on March 10.

Dunham would like to see the group raise $1 million by spring, a benchmark it hit two years ago and came close to reaching last season.

Since 2007, the money has helped build a cancer center at Eisenhower, including what's called the Bighorn BAM Procedure Suite, which officials say is ahead of the game when compared to most other hospitals around the country.

"We can have every tool we could possibly use," said Dr. John Cutrone, medical director at the Eisenhower Schnitzer/ Novack Breast Center.

The long list of technology includes 3D mammogram machines that offers better detection than the traditional twodimensional mammograms. While the technology is fairly new, Cutrone said, it will become the standard for hospitals around the country over the next five to 10 years.

Other BAM contributions have gone for things far more basic.

Dunham knew from her own treatment about the thin hospital gowns patients wear while waiting for radiation treatments, so one of the first donations BAM made was to pay for spa robes that gave patients a little more comfort.

Transportation was another cause Dunham wanted to support because of her own experience in treatment.

Since patients usually get their radiation treatments at the same time each day, they tend to get to know one another. One day Dunham struck up a conversation with a woman named Alice about how they're treating their radiation burns.

Dunham told Alice she was spreading aloe over her burns, and Alice asked her if it was expensive.

"That gave me an indication that her financial situation was probably pretty dire," Dunham said. "I told her I didn't know how much it was but I'd find out for her."

Dunham went a step further and bought a tub of aloe for Alice. But when she brought in the gift, Alice wasn't there. She'd missed the bus she rode from Indio for treatment five days a week.

Dunham realized it was a struggle for some people to travel for life-saving treatment. To date, BAM has paid for more than 8,000 trips for patients needing help getting to treatment at Eisenhower and then home.

Now BAM is looking at helping bring treatment to the patients. A portion of next season's fundraising haul may go to pay for a mobile breast center for Eisenhower offering services like mammograms.

Cutrone estimated the price at around $500,000.

"It will help those at all ends of the valley who can't get to the breast center," Dunham said. "And there are a lot of people who can't get there for one reason or another."

Health and wellness reporter Barrett Newkirk can be reached at (760) 778-4767, barrett.newkirk@desertsun.com or on Twitter @barrettnewkirk.

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