The steady pacing is a ruse. They navigated easily through an obstacle course of more than a dozen cardboard boxes outside the Imperial Ballroom. I’ve orchestrated large events and will confess that set-up never runs this smoothly without precision planning. I was, most certainly, observing a pro team of volunteers. The women floated amid the boxes like a quiet force before a storm.
Well, maybe not quiet.
“If we put the paperwork in first, the bags will stay open.”
“Only one perfume in each bag, not one of each perfume in each bag.”
“Watch out for the insecticide.”
“Did you enjoy the Chicago trip?”
“Your daughter is done with law school already?”
The next day’s luncheon is Go Red for Women, Milwaukee’s celebration in the American Heart Association’s national campaign to galvanize communities toward raising awareness –and action—about heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Compared to breast cancer’s loss rate of 1 in 30, 1 in 3 American women die from heart disease daily. This equates to someone’s wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt or best friend dying from cardiovascular disease every single minute of every single day.
“What do you think about this: we could invite this pathologist I met to give a talk about the kind of testing women should get.”
“Remember that chef? I looked at her website. She gives a Heart Healthy cooking class at Aurora. We should call her.”
“I really liked that last event. It was educational without feeling like we were back in school.”
The women laugh. They have grown to a team of six or eight now. They continue tossing ideas into the air. They continue asking about one another’s lives. They continue assembling tote bags.
“About 300. More volunteers are on the way.”
“I volunteered my first year, then I joined right away.”
“Yep, that’s how we rope you in.”
The women laugh again. This is the Circle of Red Society, women who support the Go Red for Women campaign with dollars and deeds.
“We’re the passion arm of Go Red,” says Pat, the incoming chair for Milwaukee’s Circle of Red. “This is our big annual event, but we stay active every month of the year. We try and talk to everyone about talking to everyone about heart disease.”
The outgoing chair, Lisa, doesn’t stop moving and filling bags and says, “People still are not aware. Women still don’t know signs and symptoms.”
As I continue to chat with Pat, the machine of women offer more comments while they continue to pack and move their gift bags.
“A lot of people still think breast cancer is our number one killer.”
“It’s still considered an ‘old man’s disease,’ but women’s symptoms are just different sometimes.”
“They don’t think heart attacks can happen to a woman in her 30s.”
“I’ve had a heart murmur since I was a kid.”
“My sister passed away from heart disease. My mother did too.”
“They think you have to be overweight.”
“I knew a woman who was only 51, did yoga four times a week and, when she started having a stroke, assumed it was something else. A friend convinced her to go to urgent care. Saved her life that day.”
Most of the Circle’s women have personal stories, Pat tells me, but all of them are inspired ambassadors. I asked what they would tell every woman (and the people of love them) if they could and the group agreed:
“Learn the symptoms. Do not ignore your body. Go to the doctor for regular exams and screenings.”
Even without a snazzy tote bag, these women know that Life is our most precious gift of all.
Watch this clever video starring Emmy-nominated actress Elizabeth Banks: