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MSU alumna’s nonprofit supports breast cancer patients across Montana

Tuesday Oct. 9th, 2018

What started out as a way for high school student-athletes to show their support for their coach has, over the course of more than a decade, grown into an organization that has donated more than $350,000 to breast cancer patients across Montana. This fall, Montana State University Bobcat fans will have the opportunity to support the effort during Bobcat football’s Nov. 3 home game against Cal Poly.

The effort started informally in 2003, when Vicki Heebner Carle – who had been a standout basketball player for Montana State in the 1980s and who was inducted into the Bobcat Hall of Fame in 1996 – was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was only 41.  

Carle was – and still is – a physical education teacher and volleyball coach at Billings Skyview. After her diagnosis the student-athletes on the team decided to start wearing pink ribbons on their shoes during their games as a way of honoring and supporting Carle and others facing breast cancer, she said.

The team eventually decided to raise money for the Susan G. Komen organization as part of their efforts. The mother-in-law of one of Carle’s coaches made a quilt to raffle off at a special Breast Cancer Awareness Month game, and Carle also ordered 100 pink shirts, with the hope that each athlete would purchase one of those shirts for herself and a second one for her mother.

That was in 2007. This year, the group – which became a formal nonprofit called Pack the Place in Pink in 2013 – ordered more than 9,000 shirts for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month volleyball game at Billings’ Skyview alone.

The growth is a result of students and communities that care, Carle said. She added that Pack the Place in Pink has hosted T-shirt fundraisers at other events, as well. Those include at an MSU women’s basketball game in Bozeman annually, and at an annual golf tournament, hockey game and fashion show in Billings. In addition, each year about 12 to 20 other high schools around the state host Pack the Place in Pink volleyball games and send their proceeds to the nonprofit.

As Pack the Place in Pink has grown, so has its ability to make donations to breast cancer patients. The first year, all proceeds went directly to Susan G. Komen, Carle said. But during the fourth year, things changed. The organization learned of a woman in Three Forks who was battling breast cancer, and it opted to give $1,000 directly to her. Since then, funds the organization raises go directly to breast cancer patients in Montana, Carle said.

Carle said she’s proud that 95 cents of every dollar raised through Pack the Place in Pink is given to a breast cancer patient in the state (the remaining 5 cents of every dollar covers the organization’s overhead costs, such as accounting fees). A volunteer board runs the nonprofit.

Carle is also proud that the organization honors breast cancer survivors. One of those survivors is her aunt Ruth Heebner Sheller, also a Montana State alumna, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 86. Now 97, Sheller is one of Carle’s inspirations, Carle said.

“She has always been vital and full of life,” Carle said.

As for Carle’s own battle with breast cancer, which reoccurred in 2008, Carle said it is now in remission.

“Both times surgery removed it,” she said. “I almost feel like I cheated it compared to many women.”

She added that, as a coach, she views her experience with cancer and cancer treatment as a teaching opportunity.

“I take my health very seriously and try to teach these girls to take care of their health and be ahead of the game,” she said.

To participate in the first annual Pack the Place in Pink promotion at Bobcat Stadium, individuals are invited to purchase a limited edition shirt and wear it to the Nov. 3 game versus Cal Poly. Three shirt styles are available: a pink short-sleeve shirt, a navy long-sleeve performance shirt and a navy hoodie. The shirts retail for $15, $20 and $30. Shirts are now on sale and are available at the MSU Bookstore (both its SUB and Bobcat Stadium locations) and online at http://www.msubookstore.org and at Universal Athletic locations in Bozeman, Billings, Butte, Helena, Great Falls and Kalispell and online at https://www.universalathletic.com.

In addition, local businesses are encouraged to decorate their windows in pink the week leading up to the football game to show support and help raise breast cancer awareness.

“Montana State University and Bobcat Athletics are proud to partner with Pack the Place in Pink to help raise awareness about breast cancer and show support to breast cancer survivors,” said MSU Athletics Director Leon Costello. “Vicki is an inspiration to all, and we encourage all of our fans attending the Nov. 3 game to participate in a great cause that supports Montanans.”

Costello noted that in addition to the Nov. 3 football game, Bobcat Athletics will host Pack the Place in Pink promotions at a number of other sporting events this fall, including at the Nov. 3 volleyball game. Pack the Place in Pink promotions will also take place at a track meet, women’s basketball game and men’s basketball game this year. The dates of those events will be announced.

More information about Pack the Place in Pink is available at the nonprofit’s website: packtheplaceinpink.org. To learn more about participating in the Nov. 3 promotion at the Bobcat game, visit montana.edu/news/18040/.