Like many local high schools, the young women at Carondelet High in Concord wanted to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October by showing support.
But just "showing support," wasn't good enough for the Sophomore Class Council, whose members decided a more personal touch was needed.
"We wanted to do something that would touch hearts," says CHS religion teacher and sophomore class adviser Lindy Sullivan.
The girls came up with a plan that would not only show support for breast cancer "fighters" in their own community, but make sure the patients would know they had some very real friends on their side.
On Halloween afternoon, members of the Sophomore Class Council dropped off scores of handmade cards to the John Muir Breast Cancer Center in Walnut Creek, brightly decorated pink and red notes with personal messages to women -- and men -- they didn't know.
"I know when my aunt had breast cancer, getting cards from friends and loved ones made her really happy," said student Hannah Kenneally of Pleasant Hill.
Hannah was one of several girls on the council who had been directly affected by breast cancer, which touches one in seven women.
With messages like "Fight on," "Stay strong" and "You are loved," the letters and cards resonated with cancer survivor Joan Lundahl, who was on hand as a representative of cancer patients to accept the handmade cards.
"You girls are angels," she said "These will keep someone's spirits up at a time in their life when they are feeling very low."
Lundahl was first diagnosed with breast cancer 21 years ago when she was in her late 30s -- and right before her wedding.
"I was worried that I'd have to postpone or even cancel my wedding," she told the girls, who listened with rapt attention. "It totally shifted my thinking. But I had the support of great doctors, my family and my husband."
Lundahl's cancer went into remission, but returned about six years ago, just after she retired from her job as vice principal at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek to pursue her passion -- western swing dancing.
"I knew I had to fight if I wanted to keep dancing," she said.
Just that morning, Lundahl, who lives in Clayton, had received a clean bill of health from her oncologist, and next month will be termed "cancer free." That's especially good because she and husband and dance partner Craig Johnson are competing in the United States Western Dance Completion World Championships in Tennessee in December.
Lundahl was very positive about her experience at the Breast Cancer Center, saying she received "first-class care."
After the cards were delivered, Dr. Deborah Kerlin -- a cancer surgeon and medical director of the center -- answered the students' questions about why breast cancer was so prevalent, and what they could do if they had cancer in their families.
"We really don't know why breast cancer rates are rising," Kerlin said. "It may be chemical, stress, diet ... What we are seeing is that the rates are rising not only in the U.S. but in affluent countries across the globe."
She urged the young women to practice self care, and to not be afraid to get early screening -- either baseline mammograms or genetic screening -- if they have a history of cancer in their close family.
"Be diligent," she said.
Kerlin said they don't yet know how they will distribute the cards, but that they may give them out to new patients who have been recently diagnosed. "That's a very scary time in a woman's life, and these cards will help."
Sullivan said she was "very proud" of the girls for their work.
"It's a very kindhearted group," she says. "They wanted to reach out to the patients themselves."