WESTFIELD – A benefit for Heather Riggenbach, a Westfield resident fighting melanoma, has been planned to raise money and awareness about her journey.
Riggenbach was diagnosed with melanoma at 24 after finding a spot on her stomach that began to itch and bleed. Now, at 27, she had been undergoing traditional treatment but the side effects became too much, so she has started a clinical trial at Baystate Medical Center.
Samantha Hagua, a friend who is planning the benefit, said Riggenbach and her family have been footing the bill of the treatment.
Hagua has known Riggenbach since their days on the basketball court for Westfield High School. Riggenbach was assigned as her mentor and pushed her.
“That’s just how I knew I loved her because she did that and I took it and worked with it and stepped up to her expectations, she learned to respect me,” Hagua said. “That’s kind of where we had this strong connection.”
After Riggenbach’s diagnosis, Hagua wanted to help, but she said like many people in her life, she was not sure how she could. Inspired by her friend’s strength, Hagua began working to plan the benefit with other friends of Riggenbach.
“She is truly one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. She just commands respect. She lives by her values. She loves her family and always stands up for her friends. She’s just a strong, good-hearted person,” Hagua said. “That was kind of my battle with reality at first when I found out she had melanoma. She doesn’t deserve this, but I knew if anybody was strong enough to beat this, go up against it, it’s her.”
Instead of looking for sympathy, Hagua said Riggenbach is using her story to educate those around her. She even told Hagua that she has never been happier.
“She’s done a lot of soul searching. She’s gotten so much closer to family and friends, has felt the support of people, reconnected with people and she’s learned a lot about herself, her abilities and what she’s capable of,” Hagua said. “She said she wouldn’t have undone this if she had a choice. She’s learned so much about herself and appreciated life.”
The Hope for Heather benefit will be a celebration of Riggenbach, Hagua said. Friends, family and local businesses have donated prizes and baskets. The money raised, Hagua said, will go directly to Riggenbach for anything, whether it is medical expenses or taking a trip to “make memories,” she said.
In addition to the benefit, the Short Stop Bar and Grill will host a fundraising day on June 19, with 10 percent of their profit going towards Hope for Heather. The benefit is set for June 20 at the Sons of Erin at 22 Westfield Street from 12 to 7 p.m. The cost is $20 per ticket.
“[I’m looking forward to] the image of her being surrounded by people and having that whole day to herself and kind of walking away from it with something that can help,” Hagua said. “This is what I need to do to help. I imagine a lot of people didn’t know how they could help and this will give them a way to.”
For more information about the Hope for Heather benefit, visit the “Hope for Heather <3” Facebook page or contact Hagua at email@example.com. Donations are also being accepted at www.GoFundMe.com/hope4heather.