Since the inception of the Montgomery County Cancer Association, the “Our Gang” team has been a steady fundraiser for the group’s efforts to help local cancer patients and support research efforts.
But for the “Our Gang” team, their story starts more than 25 years ago, when Brenda Cobetto of Irving was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 1996, Cobetto went for a routine mammogram in Springfield that showed she had spots in three different places. A biopsy would show it was breast cancer.
“I went for a mammogram every year,” Cobetto said.
She added that the radiologist missed diagnosing the cancer the year before, but caught it on the 1996 mammogram. As part of her treatment, she had a mastectomy, and the surgeon removed 30 lymphnodes. Of those, 29 tested positive for cancer.
“But I’m still here,” Cobetto said with a smile.
Cobetto and her husband, Ron, have three children, Amy Rupert (husband Bryce), Michael Cobetto and Mark Cobetto (wife Amanda). They also have five grandchildren, Aubry, Madelyn and Layne Rupert and Kelby and Evan Cobetto.
The day of her surgery, her husband, Ron, and three of her friends went to the hospital to be there for her, and her daughter, Amy, was coming from college in St. Louis. When Cobetto woke up from the surgery, she asked where Amy was because she wasn’t there yet. Cobetto said she was touched that Amy had driven all the way from St. Louis. She was late because she had stopped by home to clean the house and picked up her now husband, Bryce.
Following her successful surgery, Cobetto had six months of chemo every other week in Springfield. She scheduled treatments on Fridays so she would be ready to go back to work with the Illinois Department ofRevenue in Springfield by Monday.
“Most of the time I was well enough to go to work on Monday, but sometimes I wasn’t,” she said. “I worked there for 32 years, and they were so supportive of my journey.”
During chemo, the most devastating part of her experience was losing her hair. Although she had a wig, she said she hated it because it was so uncomfortable.
It was just before Christmas that her hair started to fall out in clumps, and she was already planning the big family Christmas. She would call and ask her best friend, Mona Elam, to do the impossible, to shave her head.
“I was so afraid I would get hair in the food,” she said. “So I called Mona and told her she was going to have to come over and shave my head. She did it, because she can do just about anything. But years later, she told me she was devastated to have to do it. She did it because we’re buds.”
Elam’s son, Beau, used to rub her head and joke that Cobetto looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
“My family was very supportive of me throughout my journey with cancer,” Cobetto said. “We’re not a huggy family, but they were always there for me.”
After she finished with her chemo, she had about two months of radiation treatments after work that made her tired. That was followed up by six more months of chemotherapy.
When she was in remission, Cobetto was prescribed a maintenance pill that she took every day for five years to help prevent another occurrence.
But she did have another recurrence, 18 years later.
“It was a little bump under my arm on the same side that I had the masectomy, and I kind of messed around with it,” she said. “I asked my doctors and they didn’t think it was cancer. I asked my oncologist and surgeon and they didn’t think it was cancer, but they went ahead and tested it and removed it.”
As it turned out, it was a recurrence of the same cancer, although Cobetto said it had a different name.
The surgeon wasn’t able to get clean margins, so she asked for a second opinion and went to the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, MO. Cobetto would have another surgery to get clean margins, followed by a mix of chemo and radiation. After finishing the second treatments she opted to have a mastectomy on the remaining breast.
Even though it’s been almost 25 years since her initial diagnosis, she continues to take a preventative medicine every day, which does cause some bone loss for her. She also completed genetic testing for the breast cancer gene, which was negative.
“And that’s the end of my story,” she said.
But it’s not.
After she began her journey with breast cancer, Cobetto and her family and friends became involved with Montgomery County’s Relay for Life efforts for the American Cancer Society. One year, she was even their top fundraiser.
So, when county volunteers broke away from the American Cancer Society to form the Montgomery County Cancer Association, Cobetto’s group formed the “Our Gang” team, which was one of the MCCA’s first fundraising teams.
Their 15-member team hosts a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, including Crazy Bowl, a trivia night, a Good Friday bake sale, raffles and more. They even put together the silent auction for the annual MCCA Birthday Party and Celebration of Life.
One of her favorite stories is when she misplaced some of the fundraising money, and would eventually find it in a laundry basket underneath her fake boob.
“They don’t let me handle the money anymore,” she said with a laugh.
Her team continues its efforts with the MCCA because they know it’s needed throughout Montgomery County.
“We do it because people get cancer all the time,” Cobetto said. “Cancer doesn’t care if you’re young or old, rich or poor.”
She said she lost her mother (who also had breast cancer) and a cousin to leukemia and another cousin to pancreatic cancer.
“It’s just everywhere,” she said. Even though she tested negative regarding the genetic component for breast cancer, her family still has a strong predominance for this disease.
Cobetto has high praise for the members of her team who continue to raise awareness and funding in support of the MCCA’s mission, which supports county cancer patients, cancer research and educational grants. She is also a volunteer driver for cancer patients and has grown close with several patients that need rides to their therapy appointments-even picking up their cats from the vet on the way home.
She is also part of the Montgomery County Breast Cancer Support Group, which meets every other month at Fusion, although they are not meeting in person this year due to the ongoing pandemic.
The support group receives requests from newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and provides them with a $500 gift card that can be used on anything, like gas or meals. Members also provide cards of support and encouragement to each other.
The Breast Cancer Support Group has a limited supply of past years T-shirts available for a donation. Contact Ruth Leonard at 217-494-3848.
In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, Cobetto reminds all women to do a monthly self breast exam and to get a yearly mammogram.
“I still do it,” she said. “I don’t have any boobs, but something could still pop up where they used to be. You never know when it could save your life.”