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Hundreds of women attend Girls Night Out, raising money for breast care center

Hundreds of women packed the Pasquerilla Conference Center in Johnstown for the 11th annual Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out, raising thousands of dollars for the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber. (WJAC)

JOHNSTOWN -- Hundreds of women packed the Pasquerilla Conference Center in Johnstown for the 11th annual Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out, raising thousands of dollars for the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber.

There were more than 800 women in attendance Tuesday night.

The annual fundraiser started in 2007 as a pay it forward project by Taunia Oechslin, a breast cancer "fighter" as she called herself.

Just two years later, she succumbed to the disease at 39 years old.

Today, her legacy and her goal to help others continues.

It's a room filled with hundreds of women with one goal: raising money for the Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Foundation, with all the proceeds going to the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.

"We hope to do very well. Our goal this year is $110,000," foundation secretary Andrea Bandzuhsaid.

Bandzuh is helping to reach that goal, by selling raffle tickets, while more money is being raised through auctions.

Taunia Oechslin's picture sits at the entrance, as a reminder of how this event started.

"She started Girls Night Out in 2007 with 250 attendees and raised $19,000," Bandzuh said.

Oechslin's dad, Donald Dudley, says it's rare to be able to see the legacy of a child.

"And it's an honor for me to be able to see that,” Dudley said, “She had a great idea. She refused to be categorized by her disease, and had an idea for paying it forward to the community."

And all that money helps bring awareness to the disease and ensures every woman in the community has access to cutting edge technology.

"No woman in this community should ever not have a breast exam or a mammogram because they think they can't afford it,” Dudley said. Because the women here tonight make it possible for everyone to get that."

Probably the biggest message of the night was early detection saves lives.

"I am a survivor because of knowing my risk. Keeping up with my screenings and educating myself," speaker Sherri Smay said.

And survivors, including Marie Olshefski, who’s been in remission for five years, says it means a lot to be a part of the event.

"I think it's a wonderful event. It was sad that Tania lost her life to breast cancer, but she set up an excellent funding for the future," Olshefski said.

Despite Taunia starting the fundraiser years ago, her dad said the event is not just about his daughter.

"It may seem that it's supporting my daughter's memory. I would suggest that it's supporting the women today who may need services of organizations like the Murtha Breast Care Center," Dudley said.

To date, the organization has raised and donated more than $600,000 to the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.

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