An ambassador of hope helps the show go on for Norma Pfriem Breast Center


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An ambassador of hope helps the show go on for Norma Pfriem Breast Center

Elise Bucknall, a Fairfield resident for almost 15 years, had not heard of the Norma Pfriem Breast Center until her close friend and President’s Council member Lynne Taikowski invited her to the center’s annual Rose of Hope luncheon in 2018.

“I couldn’t believe that I never knew about this incredible organization, given how much they do for the community,” Bucknall said.

Bucknall took to the Norma Pfriem Breast Center immediately after attending the luncheon. “It felt like it was a group I wanted to be a part of – warm and welcoming – with a great mission.”

Bucknall attended the Rose of Hope luncheon again the following year. The more she learned about the center, the more she wanted to become involved.

“Something in my gut kept pulling me toward the Breast Center,” she said.

A lifelong philanthropist with a background in social work, Bucknall learned as a child to appreciate the joy of giving back. A devoted animal lover, she and her daughters have actively supported numerous animal rescue organizations and have adopted many special creatures into their home, including both cats and dogs. Their home may have fur on the sofa, but more importantly, it is full of warmth. Bucknall has been involved in many charitable efforts to support children and families. She credits her parents for teaching her that kindness is a gift that everyone can afford to give.

At the beginning of 2020, she reached out to Taikowski to say she was interested in volunteering at the Breast Center. The two discussed opportunities, and Taikowski suggested she co-host the Rose of Hope event.

“I was so eager to help,” Bucknall said. “There was no way I was saying ‘no.’”

Rose of Hope was in the midst of transitioning from a luncheon to an evening event. The pandemic, however, forced the Breast Center to make a decision – to cancel or carry on.

“It’s not like the cancer stopped because of the pandemic,” Bucknall said. “The patients needed our help.”

Part of Smilow Cancer Hospital, the Norma Pfriem Breast Center offers advanced care and comprehensive services at locations in Trumbull, Fairfield and Bridgeport. The center, funded by philanthropy, provides financial assistance to nearly 1,500 women each year. This not only makes it possible for patients to receive services at the Breast Center without seeing a bill, it also goes toward helping them pay rent and utilities while they undergo treatment.

Funds raised by the annual Rose of Hope event directly impact the Breast Center’s ability to provide medical care, patient navigation and support services for the following year.

“There was no way that the center could sustain the level of help it provides its patients without the funds from Rose of Hope,” Bucknall said. “It made us want to double down.”

That’s when the center decided to host the event virtually.

“We were novices when it came to virtual events, but everyone contributed unique ideas and it all came together,” explained Bucknall.

Virtual Rose of Hope attendees received a bouquet of flowers and dinner from a local restaurant the night of the event to enjoy safely from their homes. The event featured a live performance by Grammy and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry from the Broadway musical Hamilton. Breast cancer patients spoke about their experiences as they navigated the medical, emotional and financial challenges of treatment and recovery, underscoring the significance of the Breast Center’s services.

“Elise’s heart is huge. She trusted that what we’re doing is so important for our patients, who are navigating two crises: breast cancer and the pandemic,” said Donna Twist, PhD, executive director, Norma Pfriem Breast Center. “Elise gave so much of herself and worked extremely hard to help make the event a success.”

Rose of Hope raised more than $475,000 for Breast Center patients despite any roadblocks the pandemic may have initially presented.

“I’m so passionate about Norma Pfriem and helping the center any way I can,” said Bucknall, who also joined the President’s Council in 2020. “I want to be an ambassador and let people know that this remarkable resource is right here in our backyard giving hope to women in our community.”