Michelle’s Place—helping others deal with reality of breast cancer

When Michelle Watson was confronted with breast cancer at 23-years-old, there was no support offered to understand the diagnosis that was in front of her. A visit to a Santa Barbara breast cancer resource center opened her eyes with attention and clarification of her diagnosis. Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center was built upon a family’s desire to fulfill their daughter’s dying wish – that no one would have to go through fighting cancer alone.

“Michelle originally realized that this type of support was so necessary for women,” Ashlee Collins, communications director of Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center said. “Michelle herself, became a speaker, discussing what she was experiencing before she died. She became an advocate for others.”

Her story – 15 years later – has reached a scale that no one anticipated. To date, over 100,000 services have been offered through Michelle’s Place, the foundation built the young girl’s name. But, it is in a partnership with Gillian Larson and Reality Rally that has granted the resource center both a regular large scale donation and exposure to a worldwide audience through the popular fundraising event.

“Gillian has an amazing ability to get people rallied and involved internationally,” Collins said. “From her networking with reality stars, to Reality Rally which is bigger than ever this year, she donates time and money from the heart.”

Michelle’s Place wants the community to know that all people should be their own advocate – we encourage people to live a lifestyle to help you stay healthy, according to Collins

“So many aspects of Michelle’s Place teach people how to live a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “We offer detection services, and support services for those that have been diagnosed.”

Though Michelle’s Place serves the communities of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the Reality Rally connection has broadened their reach to offering assistance to an even broader base, which has encouraged the facility to broaden their mission statement.

“When reality stars tag us on social media and create further exposure for our facility, it elevates Michelle’s Place to a different level,” Collins said. “Now people see who we are, what we do and the importance of educating and empowering our clients.”

With the expansion of Michelle’s Place’s mission, comes the added benefit of assisting anyone with any type of cancer and that no one will face cancer alone.

“We want people to come in and utilize our patient navigation services,” she said.

Though financial services are reserved for individuals with breast cancer, the support groups wigs, and other services are available for all.

Services offered by Michelle’s Place include the “Look Good Feel Good” program, which offers hairstylists’ services to women who are losing their hair to shape and style wigs. This is offered once a month on a drop in basis or by appointment.

“Many ladies need that pampered feeling,” Collins said. “We also offer makeup kits, with safe products, as well as the fellowship of having your hair styled, getting pampered, and being able to relax and leave feeling better about themselves.”

Other services include the Reiki Touchless massage, a transportation program and the Patient Navigation Program.

“Your patient navigator is an advocate that walks you through the confusion of being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Collins said. “They help you understand your options, oncologists, results, help them understand their insurance, their options, and get to the right person.”

Though Michelle’s Place is not a medical facility, their volunteers and support staff work hand in hand with clients, helping them at their level of need.

This year, Larson has encouraged Michelle’s Place to enter two teams into the “Amazing Race” style game.

“We chose Kelsey Gerckens as our reality star. It was Michelle’s Place Executive Director Kim Goodnough’s being drawn to her spunky personality. She thought she and Joey Buttitta – her boyfriend, from ‘Amazing Race’ would be ideal to play with in the Reality Rally games.”

Gerckens and Buttitta won the million dollars on “The Amazing Race” but it was the positive way that they played that drew Goodnough’s attention.

When the reality stars come to Michelle’s Place for their tour and introduction to the Watson family and learn why they are playing, each of the contestants are affected in a personal way. This year will be no different, according to Collins.

“It’s impossible to not be affected when you listen to the survivor’s stories, and the testimony from the Watson family,” she said. “Every time Marilyn speaks, she gets emotional, seeing what they’ve gone through and how far they’ve come. We go on and live our lives and don’t think about it. We’ve lost a few from our metastatic group this year. When someone has metastatic cancer, they are living on the clock and it’s so emotional to all of us when we learn that we’ve lost someone.”

Michelle’s wish was about others and that no one would have to face cancer alone, according to Collins.

“She was so young and didn’t let any of that beat her,” she said. “All that Michelle cared about was that others would have that support and not be alone. We just hope we are living up to her expectations.”

Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center is located at 27645 Jefferson Ave., Suite 117. For more information, visit www.MichellesPlace.org.

For information on Reality Rally and how to participate, visit www.realityrally.com.

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