By Megan Roche
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, one of Denville’s original events comes back with more fun to be had every year, all while helping to raise money for worthy causes.
Pink Witches Night Out was started by Meg and Cait Olenowski, owners of Surprises in Store and Sisters, after they lost their beloved mother, Kathy, to thyroid cancer. The Olenowski sisters were looking to host an event where they could celebrate survivors and remember those lost.
“People were so supportive of us and shared their own stories of how cancer affected them or their families,” Meg Olenowski said. “We knew we wanted to do an event where we could raise funds, awareness and honor those we lost but in a celebratory way.”
The first Pink Witches Night Out was well attended and gave the Olenowski sisters the inspiration to keep bringing the event back each year. After partnering up with the Denville’s Events Committee, the evening has continued year after year.
Brandy Johnson, a senior oncology social worker at St. Clare’s Health, has been involved with Pink Witches since the Olenowski sisters began the event. Johnson, a 30 year veteran social worker, is hoping people come out to support the cause.
“What I hear the most is how can we help our loved one?” said Johnson. “Raise awareness and enjoy this night out. I think it’s really important to remember that cancer isn’t all encompassing, although it feels like it. We really do need to be aware and help support and help celebrate those who survived it.”
Each year, the committee of Pink Witches Night Out chose a charity to donate the proceeds to. This year the team has selected the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation. The Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation is a tristate area cancer foundation that works to help bring direct financial assistance for non-medical expenses.
Through the work of the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation, hundreds of breast cancer patients have been given financial assistance with transportation, food, heat, rent, mortgage payments, special clothing, and much more.
Michele Rechler, the vice president of the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation, is passionate about her work with the foundation. Rechler’s team at the foundation is all volunteer.
“These patients that we are helping are in dire straits,” said Rechler. “We’re going to pay for the items that these people need to survive. Every little bit helps our mission to help make a difference in the lives of these women who are going through breast cancer.”
Patients apply for the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation through their hospital social worker. The Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation never meets the patient, they just simply take care of whatever the need is at that time.
“We don’t need a pat on the back in the form of awards,” Rechler said. “We get these beautiful letters from the women we help. It is so glorifying to read these letters. That’s what makes us most proud is that we are doing what we set out to do. Something good is coming out of cancer.”
The money raised from Pink Witches Night Out will be donated to the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation.
As a social worker, Johnson deals with families and patients who are battling all types of cancer. According to Johnson, cancer is one disease that doesn’t discriminate.
“One in eight women will experience breast cancer in their life,” said Johnson. “Men can get breast cancer too. I would love to see this disease go away. Until it does, I will continue to help my patients make their day a little bit better.”
Johnson highly encourages the awareness factor, especially because nobody knows their own body better. She is also an advocate for always going for the once a year checkup.
“Be aware of your body and make sure if you are of the right age that you get mammograms,” said Johnson. “Information is power so the earlier we detect, the earlier we can fight it. People above the age of 80 and under the age of 50 get breast cancer. We can’t ever stop getting exams.”
Johnson is a huge advocate for social and peer support when it comes to fighting any illness, especially cancer. An event like Pink Witches Night Out encourages the fight against breast cancer but gives those survivors an outlet to celebrate their remission.
“Every year is special with Pink Witches,” said Johnson. “I love how this town comes out for different events and comes together. People in this town know who to call to get things done. We want to educate and help support those in our town who go through this battle.”
Pink Witches Night Out, sponsored by St. Clare’s Health, is scheduled to take place on Oct. 18 in downtown Denville. The night will have dining and shopping deals, games, and fun to be had downtown. For $12, registration for the first 500 people will include a gift bag with tons of coupons and free items. Registration links can be found by visiting www.DowntownDenville.com.
“Denville is such a supportive community,” said Olenowski. “We are a town that rallies together and cares for our neighbors. Through Pink Witches, we hope to raise money for a very worthy cause, show support for people battling cancer and their caregivers, and remember and honor those we have lost. We hope people come out, have fun, share their stories and shop for this wonderful cause.”
During the evening, visitors to downtown will be able to enjoy the music and shop at many of the stores. Certain restaurants will be offering pink drinks and serving up discounts on food. There will also be music and little games and contests that will encourage women to remember to get screened.
As October is the month for Halloween, the witch theme encourages those in attendance to get dressed up and tie pink ribbons around their witch hats. The more dressed up, the better.
While Pink Witches is set for just one evening out, there will be breast cancer awareness happening downtown all month long. A new addition this year includes pink banners that will be hung from the streetlights downtown to remind those who shop, dine, and visit downtown Denville to be aware all month long.