Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Breast cancer survivors Alison LoCoco and Kate Ratajczak
WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Komen Wisconsin's annual More Than Pink walk is coming up on Sept. 24. Every walker has a story about how breast cancer has impacted them. That includes two mothers, who were both diagnosed while pregnant. That experience has inspired them to help other women going through the same thing.
"Are you playing with the big girls today?" Alison LoCoco asked her 4-year-old daughter, Leah, swinging on a swing at Doctors Park in Fox Point.
LoCoco and Kate Ratajczak have bonded over a lot of things.
"Want to go down the slide?" Ratajczak asked her daughter, Maeve.
They're both busy moms with a passion for helping others, but their friendship started at a darker time in LoCoco's life.
"I got diagnosed in March of 2021, when I was 17 weeks pregnant with my son, who's my youngest," she said.
Pregnant, during the pandemic, when she got the diagnosis she had breast cancer.
"Shocking beyond words. I mean, I think I went into just like a haze for a few days," LoCoco remembered.
Worried not only for herself, but also her unborn baby, a nurse navigator connected her with Ratajczak.
"So, I was diagnosed in the fall of 2016. And I was 13 weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed," Ratajczak said.
She understood what LoCoco was going through.
"She reached out to me, I said absolutely, I came down. I met her at a coffee shop. And I did, I brought her all my favorite things," she said with a smile.
"You're going to need this pillow. You're going to need this blanket. So, we became insta-friends," LoCoco recalled of that first meeting.
Ratajczak armed LoCoco with information, too.
"I didn't know what I didn't know, and I didn't know what I needed. And she did because she had gone through it. So, she was just able to funnel me information, funnel me things to think about, funnel me resources," LoCoco said.
Which is something Ratajczak didn't have when she was diagnosed.
"I searched and searched and searched for somebody with the same situation. And I really didn't come up with anything," she said.
Which is why it was so important for her to share what she'd learned.
One of the most important lessons -- letting others help.
"Being pregnant, having chemo, having another child to take care of, it was hard to let other people come in and help, but I don't think I could have done it otherwise," Ratajczak said.
Their journeys were different.
"I had a double mastectomy when I was 15 weeks pregnant," Ratajczak explained.
"I had a lumpectomy, and I had some lymph nodes removed," LoCoco said.
But the outcomes were the same. They are both cancer free with healthy children.
"She is six years old and she is very spunky, curly-haired little sassy girl," Ratajczak said of daughter, Maeve.
Alison's son, Vince, recently turned two.
"Perfect health, he's wonderful," she said.
They've joined Komen Wisconsin, organizing teams for the More Than Pink walk.
LoCoco's chemo ended last fall.
"It just so happened last year that the walk was my final treatment week. So, I used last year's walk and Team Alison as my kind of celebration of my journey," she said.
This year, Ratajczak's daughters, Maeve and Nora, got involved too, raising $400 themselves.
"They made bracelets and vases and bookmarks," she said.
The friends are also reaching out to other women in the same situation, which Ratajczak found is helpful.
"The first year I talked about it, I cried. And now when I talk about it, it's just a part of my life and it's an experience that I'm trying to use to move forward with," she said.
Both Kate and Alison are honorary co-chairs of this year's Susan G. Komen More Than Pink Walk, which is coming up Sept. 24. CBS 58 is a proud media sponsor.
"I want to share this story and inspire the other moms who are going through this, inspire the younger women who are being diagnosed so early like we were," LoCoco said.
For more information on joining the walk, click here.
If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at [email protected]