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Firefighters, others sport T-shirts to raise funds to fight breast cancer
Hall County firefighter Ryan Beasley, right, looks on as fellow firefighters Daniel Morrison, left, and Gabriel Martin check equipment. Gainesville and Hall County firefighters are wearing pink T-shirts through Oct. 9 to raise awareness about breast cancer and funds for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville and Hall County firefighters are sporting pink T-shirts for the next week in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

What started as a departmentwide fundraiser turned into a communitywide effort.

"I saw on the Internet that a fire department in Colorado participated in this last year and immediately thought about one of our own guy's wife who is battling breast cancer," Hall County Fire Marshall Scott Cagle said. "When I saw this, I thought if we could make $500, it would exceed my expectations."

When Debbie Truelove, Gainesville's administrative fire chief, heard about the fundraiser and thought of her own experience with breast cancer, the Gainesville Fire Department jumped on board. The effort expanded to the city's financial department, public utilities department and health department. Now they've sold almost 1,000 shirts and will donate $2,000 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

"So many people in our community are affected not only by cancer but specifically breast cancer," Truelove said. "It's something that struck home and we decided to see what we could do."

The Gainesville Fire Department set a goal to sell 100 shirts but exceeded it by selling 475. It hits home for Truelove, who completed her last radiation treatment two years ago.

"This event is big for me, too," she said. "I turn 50 in October, and everybody groans about that, but I'm tickled to death to be turning 50."

Firefighters from both departments wore their shirts Friday and will wear them each day they're on duty through Oct. 9 to show their support and spread awareness.

"Once the e-mails started going out, it really took off. Longstreet Clinic purchased a considerable number," she said. "I went to the grocery store and saw a girl wearing one of our shirts. A lot of people have supported us, and when the checks go to the Komen Foundation, it's definitely going to come from a community effort."

Truelove said she hopes the support means something to Hall County residents who have their own family connections to breast cancer.

"It's very hard to describe what it feels like to see these shirts because when you're going through it, it's such a tremendously personal battle, but the support you get from people during your journey and then afterwards is just tremendous," she said. "It's inspiring to know that people want to do what needs to be done to stop this from continuing to spread. It just continues and women are getting younger and more are being affected."

The T-shirts should remind women to be aware and watch out for their female relatives and friends, she said.

"It's something that affects everybody. I don't know of any family not affected by someone who was diagnosed or had a scare," she said. "Your life is forever changed, and it's not one of those things you overcome and put on the shelf. It's always part of your life, and that can be a positive for staying on top of it for your family members. I have two daughters, a sister and a mother."

Awareness is the key aspect to next week's events, Cagle said.

"Hopefully we can make this an annual event with support from the chiefs and make it bigger," Cagle said. "Maybe it can expand throughout all the city and county departments."