Brakes for Breasts: Car repair shops raise funds for cancer vaccine

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— Auto Stream Car Care on Smith Avenue and Frame Rite Auto Repair on Harford Road in Baltimore are among the 20 car repair shops in Maryland that have signed on to participate in a charity to help breast cancer survivors and ultimately help to fund research for a new vaccine that some doctors believe might eventually cure the dreadful illness.

After losing her mother to breast cancer, Laura Frank wanted to do something different. The owner of Repair Pal Might Auto Pro said her mother was a social worker who was committed to making a difference; only Frank had to determine what she could do to honor her mother’s memory and to help other families who continue to struggle with cancer.

Using her experience in the automotive industry, Frank created a program called “Brakes for Breasts.” During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, her company provides free brake pads to car owners and she donates a portion of the labor costs to the cancer vaccine research center at the Cleveland Clinic.

For every brake service performed at a participating shop, customers receive their brake pads for free and just pay for the labor and other parts. Each shop then donates 10 percent of that brake service to The Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Vaccine Research Fund.

“Brakes for Breasts is truly a grassroots fundraiser that began in August 2011 with my favorite saying, ‘As a small business owner that gives you a lot of visibility and with visibility comes responsibility,’” Frank said.

“My business partner, Leigh Anne Best, and I were thinking about what we could do to make a difference in the world,” she said. “We had done fundraising on a local level and wanted to figure out a way our efforts could help globally.”

Just two months after they brainstormed, the pair launched their first fundraiser with five local repair shops. Initially, Brakes for Breasts was viewed as just another fundraiser and the charity wasn’t taken as seriously as Frank and Best had hoped, according to Frank.

“Then, we presented our first check for $10,000 which caught the attention of more shop owners who wanted to join our efforts the following year,” she said. “With the amazing and humbling support of repair shops across the country our idea is turning into a reality.”

While most cancer fundraising programs contribute resources to breast cancer awareness and treatment, funds from Brakes for Breasts support research for the first cancer vaccine— an innovation that some medical experts believe could revolutionize the way individuals think about breast and ovarian cancer, Frank said.

The initiative is dedicated to surpassing its $150,000 fundraising goal with over 100 repair shops in 33 states participating, she said.

The vaccine is now in the initial stages of the FDA approval process.

In May 2010, when results of his years-long research were published, Dr. Vincent Tuohy told Cleveland.com that he was hopeful that the ensuing attention— including his appearances on national television programs and articles in foreign newspapers— would help generate grant money that would allow him and his six-person lab to move that vaccine research forward.

The research demonstrated that a single vaccination with a substance called alpha-lactalbumin, which is found in the breast milk of healthy women and in most breast cancers, can prevent breast cancer tumors from forming and halts the growth of existing tumors.

The success of the “Brakes for Breasts” initiative has already exceeded expectations, Frank said.

“Our expectations were not high. We surprised ourselves with the $10,000 outcome and knew from that day we could make a bigger impact,” she said. “In 2015, 174 repair shops across 32 states raised $141,868, and this year we have 170 shops across 34 states supporting us. We are truly hoping to raise $140,000 this year which will surpass the $500,000 mark in total contributions.”

For participating “Brakes for Breasts” auto shops, visit www.brakesforbreasts.com.