Participants in the Tucson Chicks N Chaps Rodeo Clinic get an up-close look at the sport of rodeo through presentations by cowboys and cowgirls, along with tickets to La Fiesta de los Vaqueros on Sunday, Feb. 18.

Courtesy of Michael Sultzbach 2017

Five years ago, a group of local women decided to take the bull by the horns to help provide support for local breast-cancer initiatives and the Tucson Chicks N Chaps Women’s Rodeo Clinic was born.

Since then, the effort has raised almost $20,000 to aid grassroots research, services and support programs in Tucson and Southern Arizona.

“That’s not bad for 12 women who were sitting around a living room and trying to come up with a way to bring more of a connection between rodeo and its efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer on Pink Sunday,” said Mary Davis, chairwoman of the event and an associate member of the Tucson Rodeo Committee.

“This event ties in with La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, one of Tucson’s most significant cultural events, and allows us to be part of a partnership to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”

The Chicks N Chaps fundraiser features a champagne breakfast followed by a “behind-the-chutes look” at the sport of rodeo. Attendees can expect presentations about rodeo animals and demonstrations by cowboys and cowgirls on barrel racing, roping, bull riding and more. The event also includes a fashion show featuring cancer survivors with Western wear by Boot Barn as well as admission to the Tucson Rodeo on Sunday, Feb. 18, and to the Barn Dance afterward.

Davis said the fundraiser has grown in popularity every year and credits the unique nature of the event as well as the fact that proceeds directly benefit the local community.

“Lots of women come back every year and report they learn something new every year. They love being part of this event. We can show direct results of our impact on the community, and I think that really resonates with folks,” she said.

In just the past two years through its partnership with the nonprofit Arizona Oncology Foundation, Chicks N Chaps has helped to provide those fighting breast cancer with 2,885 wigs and head coverings and 555 breast prosthetics, specialty bras and camisoles. It has also funded attendance at Look Good Feel Better hair and skin care sessions for 34 women.

Additionally, it helps fund twice-monthly breast-cancer support groups for survivors and their families, including a special support group for young adults ages 20 to 40.

These are just a few of the services provided by the Arizona Oncology Foundation, said Becky O’Hara, director of development.

“We are a community-based organization offering supportive programs and services for people affected by cancer, including breast cancer. We offer free and low-cost programs and non-medical supportive services that help people going through really rough times,” said O’Hara.

The Arizona Oncology Foundation — www.arizonaoncologyfoundation.org/index.html — offers five categories of support: integrative therapy treatments including acupuncture, massage, reiki, manual lymph drainage and more; support groups for patients and their families; exercise classes such as functional strength training, yoga and Qi Gong; financial support including assistance with bus passes and gas cards to remove transportation constraints to treatment; and other programs and services including oncology nutrition with a registered dietitian, free wigs, breast prosthetics and more. The organization also offers education and cancer lending libraries through two local resource centers. It provided about 8,000 services to patients with different types of cancer last year in Southern Arizona.

Davis said she has witnessed the difference that Arizona Oncology Foundation services can make to those battling cancer.

“I had a friend who I took to get massages and facials while she was going through treatment and it just made her cry because it made her feel so much better during that horrible time. I know firsthand what an honor it is to be able to help make these patients and their families feel more comfortable,” Davis said.

Davis said she and other volunteers who facilitate Chicks N Chaps are inspired by the opportunity to help the 5,700 Arizona women that the American Cancer Society estimates will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. Statewide, about 850 women are expected to die from the disease this year.

Davis and O’Hara also emphasized that linking breast cancer awareness and support to an educational event pertaining to the Tucson Rodeo provides a unique opportunity to engage the entire community.

“Chicks N Chaps is really something different where you can get a whole lesson about rodeo and the history of rodeo in Tucson. Whether you are someone who is into rodeo or someone who has never attended, I highly recommend it.

“It is a great way to have fun while supporting people during a tough time. We are so grateful to be involved in something like this. After all, what is more community than rodeo in Tucson?” said O’Hara.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net