Photo: Never Surrender staff and volunteers gather for a photo at the October 15 Boobilicious event. Pictured, from left: Selita Vissering, Sonya Owens, Patsie Kendrick, Shannon Sexton, Executive Director Tara Fulford. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
Never Surrender is a local nonprofit dedicated to advocacy, education and financial support for those fighting breast cancer.
During October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the organization holds several fundraising events and educational campaigns. Its ninth annual Boobilicious event, a motorcycle ride-in and charity benefit, was held October 15 in downtown Gadsden.
Never Surrender Co-Founder and Executive Director Tara Fulford revealed that funds raised during the 2022 Boobilicious event totaled $21,686, an organization record.
“That’s probably one of the highest totals that we’ve raised by ourselves,” Fulford explained. “One year we had a match from a company that matched us up to $10,000, but other than that year, that’s the most we’ve raised ever.”
Fulford started Never Surrender 12 years ago when a friend of hers was struggling financially following a breast cancer diagnosis and the unexpected loss of her husband to another form of cancer.
“We just started doing fundraisers for her and giving her all the help we could, financial, emotional,” Fulford said. “And then I had a couple other people that were kind of in the same boat that came to us that needed our help, so we were like, ‘If we’re going to keep doing this, let’s do a 501(c)(3).’”
Fulford noticed that many national breast cancer organizations, while making sizable contributions to research, did not offer direct financial assistance — something she saw was much needed among local families. Thus, Never Surrender came to be.
“We established the 501(c)(3), and then it just kind of snowballed,” Fulford said. “There was definitely a need for it in our community. Once they saw what we were doing, the support from Gadsden and Etowah County was huge. All of our fundraisers have always been really successful. Everybody knows someone who’s been touched by breast cancer.”
The organization, partnered with Advanced Imaging in Gadsden, offers three main programs: a self-examination training program, a mammogram voucher program and a financial assistance program.
“We have the breast self-exam program where we go into the high schools in Etowah and Calhoun County and teach the girls about early detection and how to do a breast self-exam and what’s normal,” Fulford said. “If they find something that’s not normal, they can reach out to a family member or their doctor or even us to see what they need to do next.”
According to Fulford, things that may be abnormal include new lumps under the skin, skin dimpling, rashes or dryness and any nipple changes — “any kind of changes in your skin.”
She stressed the vital importance of early detection for breast cancer.
“For reference, if you find something the size of a centimeter or smaller — so like the size of an English pea — the survivability rate if you find a cancer that early is in the 90-95 percent range,” Fulford said. “So your five-year survivability is 95 percent. But if you wait until it gets something that’s five centimeters — the size of a small lime or something like that — it goes down to like 65 percent.”
Once an abnormality is detected, the other two programs may come into play.
The mammogram voucher program is available to anyone in Etowah and Calhoun Counties. Each candidate is screened by the Family Success Center, but their mammogram is fully funded by Never Surrender whether or not they are insured.
Partnering with the Family Success Center helps Never Surrender to determine whether applicants need further financial assistance.
Fulford said Never Surrender’s financial assistance program is available to anyone in Etowah or Calhoun County currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
“We’ll help them with utility bills, medical bills, rent,” Fulford said. “We’ve helped people with daycare, gas to and from treatments, whatever it is that we can. We’re lucky enough to where a lot of the local places — and even some places in Birmingham — have partnered with us and give us a sliding scale, so we’re not paying full price. We’re paying more like Medicare rates, so that’s really good.”
Never Surrender is funded by sponsors and community donations, for which it conducts three main fundraisers annually. Boobilicious is held in October, but the organization also hosts a clay sporting event called Shooters for Hooters and a 5k race titled Run for the Rack.
“We’ve given almost half a million dollars back to the community,” Fulford said. “That’s not raised, that’s what we’ve paid out.”
The organization has been fighting for breast cancer survivors and in honor of victims for 12 years and 11 as a registered 501(c)(3). Fulford pointed out that one in eight females will be affected by breast cancer in their lives, as well as a few males.
“Especially during October, it can be very overwhelming with all the things that we have going on, but then when you hear the success stories and the people who wouldn’t have got treatment otherwise, it kind of makes it all worth it,” Fulford said.