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Taking the plunge to help women with breast cancer
Why do hundreds of people in the Wild Rose area shed their warm, winter clothing and jump into the frigid waters of Little Silver Lake each year on New Year's Day?
The answer is simple — to have fun and raise money to honor the memory of a dear friend, wife and well-known member of their community. Ann Seifert was a vibrant, fun-loving woman who lived life to the fullest. She and her husband Rick Seifert owned Red Fox Food and Spirits on Little Silver Lake in Wild Rose, Wisconsin.
About seven years ago, Ann and Rick and their friends organized a Polar Plunge event as a fun New Year's Day tradition. According to Chris Rosin, one of Ann's closest friends, the focus of this annual plunge took on new meaning in October 2005. That was when both Chris and Ann were diagnosed with breast cancer and sought treatment at Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh.
Chris said, "Once Ann was diagnosed, I went in for a mammogram, and discovered that I had the disease, too. We had breast surgery within four days of each other and went through the entire experience together — every step of the way. Ann was my personal inspiration for getting that life-saving test."
Ann and Chris learned firsthand how breast cancer impacts women and how important early detection is. Ann and Chris, with support from Ann's husband, decided that the next Polar Plunge would be held as a fundraising event, with proceeds going toward early detection of breast cancer at Aurora Medical Center. On January 1, 2006, several hundred participants and supporters raised about $5,000 through pledges, raffles, food and refreshment sales. They were hopeful that both Ann and Chris would make a full recovery.
Chris said, "People generously supported this event from the beginning. They knew that the funds would be kept locally and could help their own friends and neighbors."
Proceeds from the first Polar Plunge went toward purchasing a specially designed chair at Aurora Medical Center used during breast biopsies. Fleurette Wrasse, Breast Cancer Coordinator, said, "This cushioned exam chair can be rotated and is height adjustable. It provides much more comfort to women during a diagnostic procedure that can be quite uncomfortable. Many area women are benefiting from the Seifert family's generosity."
Remaining committed to the cause
Even while her own health was failing, Ann continued to look ahead to plan for the next Polar Plunge, to help breast cancer patients at Aurora Medical Center who would come after her. Chris said, "Six months before the 2007 event, she told me she wanted it to be the biggest and most successful event ever — and it was. We even had a slogan this past year: "Freeze your fanny, donate for Annie.""
Unfortunately, Ann's battle with cancer was valiant, but short lived. She passed away in September of 2006, less than a year after her diagnosis. Even though Ann's struggle was over, her husband and friends remain committed to the cause they all hold close to their hearts. The Seifert family decided that all memorials for Ann would go to the newly created Ann Seifert Memorial Fund at Aurora Medical Center, to help other women facing breast cancer in the future.
After Ann died, the family held a beautiful "Celebration of Life" to honor her memory. Chris said, "The turnout at her memorial service was simply outstanding. Ann had touched so many lives, yet she had no idea how many people in this area cared about her. She would have been so honored by their presence and their generosity."
While grieving her absence, the Seifert family and Ann's friends continued with the Polar Plunge event to support the memorial fund bearing her name. The most recent event, held on January 1, 2007, raised approximately $6,000. The proceeds, along with Ann's memorial donations of about $5,000, have been earmarked to help purchase a stereotactic breast biopsy device costing about $50,000. Ann would surely be pleased.
Fleurette described how this piece of equipment will improve the experience of women needing a stereotactic biopsy to confirm a breast cancer diagnosis. She said, "This new equipment will be compatible with our MRI, ultrasound and mammography equipment. It will greatly reduce the amount of time a stereotactic biopsy takes, from about 45 minutes to about five minutes. In some cases, using this advanced technology may even eliminate the need for additional surgery."
Clearly, Ann's death has left a big void for everyone who knew her. Chris said, "Ann was like a sister to me. She loved to be with people and we all miss her very much. We will continue supporting Ann's fund, as a way to keep her memory alive forever."
To date, generous folks who knew and loved Ann Seifert have raised and donated approximately $17,000 in her honor and memory. Rick Seifert said, "It's been gratifying to see how many people have come together to honor Ann's memory. So many have generously donated money, secured pledges and contributed raffle prizes. The Red Fox staff, friends and volunteers selflessly donate their time to make this event a wonderful success. I would especially like to thank Barb Christie for her wonderful help with the Plunge and Red Fox bartenders Andy and Liz for donating their tips each year to Ann's fund. The commitment of these people is so appreciated."
Lynn Kleman, Senior Philanthropy Officer at the Aurora Health Foundation, said, "Ann's commitment to helping others experiencing the same cancer diagnosis was truly inspirational. Through the efforts of Ann's family and friends, her legacy will continue. The Aurora Health Foundation is proud to be part of these continuing efforts to ensure that Ann's memory will be honored for many years to come."