Skip to main content
Get Care MyChart Find a Provider Find a Location

La Crosse woman named 2019 Paula Tower Memorial Award winner

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Every year the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care, supported by Gundersen Medical Foundation, awards the Paula J. Tower Memorial Award. The award honors one individual in the Coulee Region who has exemplified the selfless giving of time and energy to advance the message of hope for a future without breast cancer.

Margaret “Peggy” Herlitzka of La Crosse was honored for exemplifying the “Power of One” at the 14th annual Steppin’ Out in Pink on Sept. 7.

Peggy served as a full and active force on the Steppin’ Out in Pink Committee beginning in 2008 when she stepped up as a team recruiter. For the next nine years, she volunteered to run the Survivor Tent, including the tent’s inaugural year in 2009.

“So assured, positive and confident, Peggy knew how to get things done and create an awesome experience for survivors attending the walk, year after year,” says Patty Brown, who nominated Peggy for the award.

A cancer previvor, Peggy shares, “I became involved in Steppin’ Out in Pink to raise money to fund research for a cure for breast cancer. I also wanted to tell our family’s story with the hope that women with a family history would know to ask their medical providers about genetic testing, and to make sure all women realize they are at risk—regardless of their family history—and the importance of early detection.”

To say Peggy’s Irish family has been impacted by breast cancer is an understatement. “My maternal aunt was diagnosed in her early 40s and left behind five children when she lost her battle in her early 50s. Another maternal aunt was diagnosed at age 72. Four of my first cousins were diagnosed with breast cancer (two at age 37, one at age 39 and one at age 41). My sister, Kathy’s, worst fears were confirmed at age 31, and she joined our cousins in the fight for their lives. Of these five young women, my sister is the sole survivor,” she says.

In 2000, Peggy was tested for a BRCA mutation, and the results came back positive.

“I couldn’t bear the idea of not being around for my children,” shares Peggy, who was 37 years old when she got the results.

Following hours of research and numerous medical consults, Peggy underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. It was life-changing moments, like this one, that helped create a platform for Peggy to share her family’s story, advocate for cancer research and demonstrate that life goes on with great love and joy.

Though some worries of cancer always remain, Peggy says, “I feel fortunate that advances in research made it possible for me and my family to test for the BRCA2 gene which allowed us to be pro-active. Knowledge truly can be power. I am also grateful to share that our extended family has not had a breast cancer diagnosis since the BRCA2 testing has become available. There truly is hope for our family and others.”

The Paula J. Tower award was established to honor Paula Tower’s legacy and to remember the difference just one person can make. Paula was a mammography technologist who worked at Gundersen for more than 16 years. In July 2004, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and her body surrendered to the disease in 2007.

News

Grateful patient

Cancer treatment made easier by care close to home

March 26, 2024

One day, Terry Ritter was at the farm brush-hogging bottoms, feeling fine. The next morning, he woke knowing something was very wrong.
News

Bellin and Gundersen Health System receives 2024 Advocacy All-Star Award from WHA

March 22, 2024

Bellin and Gundersen Health System received the 2024 Advocacy All-Star Award at Wisconsin Hospital Association’s (WHA) annual Advocacy Day event on March 20.
Grateful patient

Rehab at Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s gets Kellogg man back on the job

March 20, 2024

John Schurhammer remembers the day well. He’d been lifting heavy materials all day at work – heavier than what he should’ve been handling – when he decided to lift just
Who we are

Gundersen researcher honors mother’s cancer journey, completes memoir

March 20, 2024

As a nurse, Sandra Ann Cowden found joy in caring for patients. However, when she was just 30 years old, she found herself on the receiving end of care when

1900 South Ave.
La Crosse, WI 54601

(608) 782-7300

Language Support:
Jump back to top