The Step Sisters

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The Step Sisters organization (stepsisters.org) is made up of women and men that have been impacted by breast cancer in some way. While they started as a group of around ten, there are now over 100 members. “There is no membership as such,” the women agree. “We like to say, ‘Once a Step Sister, always a Step Sister.’ There is no initiation, and there are no specific requirements. It truly is a sisterhood.”

sistersBased in Ashburn’s Brambleton community, the group has spent the last nine years raising money, primarily for breast cancer research. The Step Sisters announced a significant shift in focus for their fundraising efforts a few months ago. “We felt it was time to bring the heart back into the organization,” says Angela Fuentes, President of the Step Sisters. “We were raising a lot of money and wanted to see it have some positive local impact.”

The Step Sisters spoke to hospital staff and non-profit groups in the area. While they strongly felt that there was an unmet need in Northern Virginia, they wanted to make sure they were not duplicating efforts. “It didn’t take long to find our true mission,” explains Ashley Campolattaro, Vice President of the Step Sisters. “We knew we wanted to support local breast cancer patients by providing services they need as they battle the disease.” Instead of donating money towards nationwide efforts to find a cure, the Step Sisters felt that they could have a stronger local impact. In January of this year, the organization signed their first agreement with Inova Loudoun Hospital in order to make this happen.

Funds raised by the Step Sisters are now allocated to the hospital and utilized by those working most closely with breast cancer patients. For example, if one of Inova Loudoun’s Breast Care Navigators sees that a patient is having difficulty getting to and from appointments, she can utilize these funds and contact one of the Step Sisters’ partner organizations for transportation. In addition to offering transportation, the Step Sisters have partnered with other vendors and are able to provide house cleaning and fresh food delivery for those going through treatment. Not only are they researching other services to be provided in the future, they are also working to implement the same program at other Northern Virginia hospitals.

THE STEP SISTERS’ STORY

Ashley’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. With her mom living in Maryland, Ashley wasn’t always able to be there to help and saw her mom struggling with basic needs during her fight against the illness. Fortunately, Maryland-based Red Devils, an organization with a similar mission, stepped in and assisted her mom through treatment, inspiring Ashley to share her story with the Step Sisters, and they began rethinking the mission of the organization.

Angela was diagnosed in 2008 and knows firsthand the challenges of living with breast cancer. “The diagnosis and treatment really take a toll on you, both emotionally and physically. But despite what you have to go through to try and get better, daily life still goes on. We work. We raise kids. Without any help, it’s tough every single day,” she says. Throughout her treatment, members of the Step Sisters played an important role in supporting her and getting her through a very challenging time in her life. Angela hopes to pay this generosity and kindness forward through the Step Sisters’ new vision.

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For the first time since their founding, the Step Sisters lost a member to breast cancer. Sharon Iglesias fought the disease three times over an eight-year period, finally succumbing in December of last year. “As much as we encounter breast cancer in our work and everyday lives, it never ceases to hurt,” the women explain. “Sharon’s death stung. But with that kind of hurt eventually comes more determination to make a difference for the next woman.”

And determined they are. Their annual flagship fundraiser, the Ribbon Run, attracts over 2,000 participants to the Brambleton Town Center. Early in the morning on April 5th, you will find members of the Step Sisters wearing navy and pink t-shirts, quietly working to set up tables, organize road signs and direct runners. They don’t run the race themselves, but they make sure that the event goes smoothly for the participants. And in honor of their departed Step Sister, Sharon, the group will be adding an expo to this year’s race. “Sharon’s Showcase” will educate attendees on breast cancer resources available in the area. Breast cancer related non-profits have been invited to join forces with the Step Sisters and participate at no charge.

The Step Sisters do not always meet the women they have helped. In fact, in most cases they will never even know their names. They just know that the work they do helps improve life for a woman who really needs it. After all, isn’t that what sisters do?
Photography: Amie Otto Photography