Team Michelle continues racing for the cure

Bonnie Shukla (left) and Michelle Helfrich (right) have formed a dynamic duo as co-captains for Team Michelle in helping raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Not all races are meant to end at the finish line. Some are intended to instill an everlasting fight. That’s how Michelle Helfrich and Bonnie Shukla see the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The official race date was March 7, and sure Team Michelle represented very well in attending, participating and raising funds of nearly $13,000. Well now that the race has ended, the dynamic duo is continuing to race on for the cure and raise more funds with a goal to reach $15,000 by April 6.

On June 8, 2014, Helfrich said her life was changed completely when she heard the words “You have Cancer.”

Helfrich said her story began at the end of May 2014, “the week before my birthday,” when she felt what she thought was a very small lump in her left breast. 

“Being the person that I am, I immediately scheduled a doctor’s appointment to have it checked out,” Helfrich said, who lives in Pelican Point. “However, the entire time before my appointment, I never gave it a second thought.  I just knew that it would be ‘no big deal’ and that my doctor would probably laugh at me for even being concerned about it.”

Since she turned 40, Helfrich had been diligent about getting a yearly screening mammogram. Her mammograms always came back clear and with no issues. She also has no family history of breast cancer. She is rarely sick and her health was never a point of concern for her, “it wasn’t something that ever even registered on my radar screen of things to worry about.”

“So let’s just say I was pretty surprised when I found myself on the morning of my 43rd birthday sitting at Woman’s Hospital waiting to have a diagnostic mammogram performed on me,” Helfrich said. “After it was read by a radiologist, I was told that I would need further testing - a biopsy to confirm any kind of diagnosis. In less than two weeks, I had two biopsies performed, an MRI, met with a Breast Specialist, and began discussing possible treatment options.”

The entire month of June was a complete blur to her. She was being bombarded with so much information, having to make all of these major health treatment decisions, meeting with specialist after specialist, and preparing herself for major surgery.  At that time, she was told that surgery would be her only course of treatment given that the cancer was found early and “I was only Stage 0.”  

“It had not spread to my lymph nodes and there were no other indications that the cancer had spread anywhere else in my body,” Helfrich said. “I also tested negative for both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.  At one point, I just remembered sitting by myself wondering, ‘How did I even get here?’  Is this really happening to me?  Less than a month ago, I was thinking about summer vacation and how I wanted to join our community pool so the girls could learn to swim this year and now I was faced with ‘will I survive long enough to see my girls grow up?’”

After her bilateral mastectomy on July 1 and looking at the results of her final pathology report, Helfrich’s doctor recommended that she also complete chemotherapy as well - given her age. She was officially diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, HER2+.  Her oncologist said based on the type of cancer she had, it was one of the more aggressive ones. She said he could not confirm with complete certainty the cancer was completely contained to her breast tissue even though she had clear margins. She was told that with surgery only, she had an 80 to 85 percent survival rate but with chemotherapy, she could increase that to 90-plus percent.  

“The decision to do chemotherapy was fairly simple to me,” Helfrich said. “I wanted to nip this in the bud and be done with it and never have to deal with it again. I knew this course of treatment would be very difficult but the decision itself was simple.”

Today, Helfrich has completed the chemotherapy treatments, completed her last surgery to finish her reconstruction process, and she has finished her first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

She was never alone throughout her process, and near the end she met a person who would become a great friend to her - Shukla, another Pelican Point resident.

Together they serve as co-captains for “Team Michelle” to raise awareness and fundraising dollars towards finding a cure for this disease, which affects 1 in 8 women.  

Helfrich and Shukla have done a number of fundraisers through the support of local businesses in the area, and the support has “just been overwhelming.”

“We initially started with a goal of $5,000 and we are now at almost $13,000,” Helfrich said. “Our new goal is to reach $15,000 and we are committed to getting there over the next three weeks.”

Helfrich and Shukla’s relationship over the past few months has grown to a dynamic bond through meeting to help raise awareness for a cause.

“When she asked me to help her with this, I just didn’t want to let her down,” Shukla said, holding back emotional tears. “I wanted to do my best with it. And I’m a competitor, which for this is a really good thing.”

Susan G. Komen Baton Rouge services a 10-parish area including Ascension Parish, and 75 percent of donations remain in this immediate area to provide services for those who can’t afford them in addition to education and community outreach on breast cancer awareness. The remaining 25 percent goes towards breast cancer research.

For more information on how to support Team Michelle or about the Susan G. Komen Foundation contact Helfrich or Shukla at The community can also support Team Michelle through buying raffle tickets, or also make direct donations towards Team Michelle on the Baton Rouge Susan G. Komen website at

“We initially started with a goal of $5,000 and we are now at almost $13,000,” Helfrich said. “Our new goal is to reach $15,000 and we are committed to getting there over the next three weeks.”