The High Country Breast Cancer Foundation (HCBCF) is celebrating its fifth anniversary by publicly thanking the many generous and caring people in the High Country who support its cause.

The 5K Walk/Run continues to be the foundation’s biggest annual event, generating donations through race registration and sponsorship. Race participation has grown dramatically since the first event in October 2017. The 2019 race had over 600 entrants. 

Irene Sawyer, HCBCF founder and president, is a 10-year breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with the very aggressive triple-negative form of the disease in December 2010. She began the road to recovery after multiple surgeries and 18 months of chemotherapy. One of the things that helped her during her journey was the support she received from her community. When Irene moved to the High Country, she noticed many businesses and members of the public were eager to show their support during October —Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Her dream was to bring together all who felt a calling to support breast cancer awareness under one umbrella as a united front for the community. 

Irene’s dream came true in 2017 when she started HCBCF as a local nonprofit with an all volunteer board dedicated to helping breast cancer patients, survivors and their families exclusively in the North Carolina High Country. The foundation is the link between those who can give and those who need that gift. Irene pays all of the foundation’s expenses with the earnings from her personal real estate business. This means every penny of every dollar donated goes to work for local breast cancer patients and their families. The foundation has paid patients’ rent, contributed to college funds, automobile expenses, food trains and other costs. The foundation now covers the cost of a remarkable new treatment that prevents hair loss due to chemotherapy. 

Losing one’s hair as a result of chemotherapy is one of the harshest events in a patient’s recovery. The Paxman Scalp Cooling System is globally recognized as the leading product for hair-loss prevention during chemotherapy treatment. The Paxman treatment is effective because cooling protects hair follicles by preventing chemotherapy drugs from penetrating them. Because of generous donations, HCBCF pays for 100 percent of Paxman Cold Cap treatment for all local breast cancer patients in the seven-county NC High Country area. 

The HCBCF volunteers are easy to recognize, wearing their iconic pink tutus in parades and fundraising events. Members of the foundation show up for the community and their patients with a kind heart and the energy it takes to make a difference.

The Foundation continues to grow and expand its outreach through all seven counties it covers. Anyone living in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties are eligible. New fundraising avenues are continuously being pursued while its traditional 5K Walk/Run is virtual for 2021 due to COVID-19 safety protocols. 

To donate, request assistance, register for events or volunteer, visit

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