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Fundraiser Friday: Penny’s Pink Lemonade

By BCRF | March 27, 2015

One year after her mother died from breast cancer, Leigh Gale of Gates Mills, Ohio decided to start fundraising in her honor. In 2010 Penny’s Pink Lemonade was born. Named after her late mother, Katherine “Penny” Mary Dessauer, the initiative was inspired by the popular saying: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” For Leigh, the organization helped turn her mother’s diagnosis from lemons to pink lemonade – and gave her a way to continue honoring her mother’s beautiful legacy.

Since its start, Penny’s Pink Lemonade has hosted two “A Pink Tie Affair” galas that raised a total of $40,000 for BCRF.

We had the opportunity to learn more about Leigh’s inspiration for Penny’s Pink Lemonade and how she continues to honor her mother’s legacy.

We understand Penny’s Pink Lemonade was created in memory of your mother. Can you tell us more about her and the story behind the organization’s founding?

Katherine Mary Dessauer, also known to close friends and family as "Penny,” our angel on earth entered into eternal life on Sunday October 25th, 2009 at the age of 62.  My mother was one of a kind and my very best friend. She exuded energy and loved life; her love and compassion for family and friends was contagious. She was a dedicated wife and mom of three.

In 2008, she was diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer. It was caught early and the surgery was successful— so we thought. Her margins were clear she was positive with a couple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy she would walk away cancer free. Her optimism was contagious and we all celebrated when the doctor came out of surgery to let us all know her margins were clear. Little did we know that that would only be the beginning of her journey.

Cancer returned shortly after in her left breast again and quickly it spread to her lymph nodes, liver and lungs. Many rounds of chemotherapy and the cancer were still not responding as we had hoped. She tried all of the options available to her but none of the treatment “cocktails” were attacking the cancer cells, instead the treatment affected her healthy cells, which made her fight more difficult.

Through it all, my mother remained so positive that I honestly believed cancer wasn’t so bad after all. Cancer became a part of our lives as a family and unwillingly we accepted it because we didn’t have a choice. She and I talked about her options, the “what-ifs,” ultimately discussing death, dying and what her wishes were. She wanted researchers to find a cure so desperately and I felt it was my mission to try to work for a cure in her honor.

After our fleeting conversation of developing Penny’s Pink Lemonade (PPL), it was in that moment I vowed to make her wish come true. By creating this organization it was a way for us to be forever connected as mother and daughter.

Tell us more about “A Pink Tie Affair,” your signature fundraiser. 

"A Pink Tie Affair" was the second event PPL put together and with each event it is my goal to have the evening be a reflection of my mom. We have had a silent auction featuring items she would have loved and music that she adored along with family and friends gathering together for a cause so close to her heart. It’s an evening about her and about fighting the fight for a cure for her and with her! 

What inspired you to support BCRF?

I am passionate about BCRF because the focus is research and the allocation of funds is so important to you, as well as your donors. Also, it is evident that the funds donated are making a difference with all of the miraculous strides you have made. I am hopeful that in our lifetime we will see a cure!

What has been the most rewarding part of founding Penny’s Pink Lemonade?

Penny’s Pink Lemonade is rewarding because it has brought a positive light to such a dreadful disease. Cancer took away my mom and Penny's Pink Lemonade brings her back! We are fighting this fight with my mom through the founding of this organization.

What are the future goals of Penny’s Pink Lemonade?

Penny’s Pink Lemonade has many aspirations to make my mom proud! This summer, my 5-year-old son, Lincoln, plans to have a lemonade stand in her honor. I would love to put together a product line, which will benefit BCRF and HER-2 positive breast cancer research. Continuing to fight is our goal so that cancer will have received justice for the harm it has done to my family.