For the 250 women attending the ninth annual Blue Mountain Health System's Ladies Night Out, it was a night of good food, camaraderie and breast cancer awareness. The event was funded by a grant from the Women's 5K Classic of the Lehigh Valley.

Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall was a sea of pink Tuesday night as the women listened to Dr. Herbert Hoover, surgical oncologist; and Esther Courtright, co-owner of "Strands of Hope" and a breast cancer survivor, share information, inspiration and hope.

Dr. Hoover, one of the few men attending the event, said that breast cancer is the number one feared cancer by females in the United States.

"It's a big concern to women because they fear losing their hair, a body part and their lives," said the oncologist, who is a physician at Blue Mountain Health System.

The statistics were staggering, but his message of early detection brought hope.

He said that 200,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Forty thousand women will die of the disease.

"One in eight women will get breast cancer," he said, "but that is a wide range that is if you live to age 85."

He added that, "You don't need to die. You don't need to lose a breast. With early detection, you can live."

Hoover said there are a few small things women can do to lessen their chances of getting breast cancer, such as cutting back on alcohol, exercising and losing weight.

He added that women who have a baby at an early age may have less problems, and that women who breast fed their babies do seem to have a lower incidence of breast cancer.

"Some cancers seems to be familial," he said. "Early detection is the key."

He said that the best thing women can do is to learn their own bodies.

"In your 20s, do breast exams and in your 30s have clinical exams," he said. "Mammographies do not pick up everything. A lot of women have found their own mass."

He added that women over age 40 should have an annual mammogram.

"Treatment is complex," he said. "We have found that doing a mastectomy has no benefits over a lumpectomy. We are recommending that we try to preserve the breast, which is a total reversal on earlier treatments."

Hoover said that another reversal was prescribing hormone replacement therapy, which has been totally stopped by most doctors because the chance that it may cause breast cancer.

Courtright said that June 1, 2006, was the day she learned she had breast cancer.

"It was the hardest battle of my life," she said. "I wondered when I would wake up from this nightmare."

She said her boys turned into strong young men who supported her.

"I wept," she said. "I prayed, but never said 'why me' because I didn't want to think someone else deserved breast cancer."

She said she leaned on her faith in God, her family and friends and was determined to be a breast cancer survivor.

"Life is worth fighting for," she said. "I hope that I can give hope and inspiration to other women and help take away their pain. No one deserves to have breast cancer or any other cancer."

She said that she retired from her job and now spends her free time trying to reach out to other women who she sees carrying their mammograms to their doctor's office.

"I founded 'Strands of Hope,'" she said. "Women need to look good and feel good. Strands of Hope provides beautiful and comfortable headwear for women experiencing hair loss.

"Having breast cancer takes on a whole new normal in your life," she said. "We can win this battle. We are fighters. We are tenacious and strong and we fight like girls."

Mary Lou McGeehan, community education coordinator at BMHS, said that there are several programs for women who have low or no income to get mammograms and other screenings.

"Healthy Women Program" is funded by the state Department of Health. It is a free breast and cervical cancer early detection program.

Free services for those meeting the eligibility standards include: clinical breast examination, mammogram, pelvic examination and Pap smear, education on breast self-exam and follow-up diagnostic care for an abnormal result. The number to call is 1 (800) 215-7494.

The second program is sponsored by the Women's 5K Classic which provides free mammograms for women who are underinsured or uninsured.

Women must have a prescription from their doctor to secure a voucher for the free mammogram.

For more information or to secure a voucher, call 1 (866) 400-2970.