Breast cancer survivor gives forward to support local women

Three years ago this September, Arleen Fettig was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now cancer-free, she’ll celebrate the milestone by supporting breast cancer research and care for others during the annual Cowgirls for a Cure event on Sept. 10 in Bismarck

Three years ago this September, Arleen Fettig heard those dreaded words, “you have breast cancer.”

“I was in shock,” Arleen said. “But I knew I had to be strong…I had to be strong for my husband, for my kids. You can’t break down.”

Arleen’s cancer was aggressive, but fortunately, she caught it early through her annual mammogram.

“If I hadn’t gone in for my yearly, it would have been a whole different story,” she said.

After reviewing treatment options with her team at Sanford Bismarck, Arleen chose to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstruction. At every appointment and throughout her surgery and recovery, she was touched by the kindness and attention of her surgeon, Dr. Theresa Hegge, and other caregivers and staff.

“I couldn’t ask for better care,” she said. “From being checked in, to the nurses to the doctors to aftercare. I wouldn’t change anything.

“For living in a small state, we’re very lucky to be able to have the health care system we do in Bismarck. They get to know you personally…that’s a big deal. They remember you and know your history and treat you well. You’re not just a number.”

Arleen, now cancer-free, wants her story to remind all women—including her own eight sisters and three daughters—that regular mammograms do save lives.

“I just encourage women to get a yearly mammogram,” she said.

Arleen and family

Giving forward

This September, as Arleen thinks back on her own journey, she’ll also be giving forward to support others at the annual Cowgirls for a Cure, a signature event of the Sanford Health Foundation in Bismarck.

Every dollar raised during the barrel racing competition will stay local to advance breast cancer research and patient care through the Edith Sanford Breast Initiative.

“It’s not only fun, but the money goes to a great cause,” said Arleen, who attends each year. “There’s real camaraderie—everybody’s cheering for each other.”

The event not only raises critical funds, she adds, but it builds community and shows people they aren’t alone when facing this disease.

“A lot of women who participate definitely know somebody who has dealt with breast cancer,” she said. “To me, it’s a big deal to have this support for the women who’ve had it and are going through it.”