WAXHAW – Olya Banchik watched her mother battle breast cancer in 2005. The treatment took everything away from her, including her smile.
The grueling side effects of chemotherapy impact many breast cancer patients’ oral health. Banchik said treatment can cause oral sores, tooth decay and infection in roughly 40% of breast cancer patients and survivors as they neglect their dental care for financial reasons.
Though her mother survived, Banchik, who co-owns Reafield Dental in Waxhaw with her husband, Leon Banchik, wanted to find a way to help others.
Banchik’s mother-in-law is also a breast cancer survivor. The two dentists looked for a foundation to donate to, but realized they could have a more tangible impact as dental professionals. They started the Smiles for Survivors Foundation in Las Vegas before moving to Waxhaw.
“It’s one thing to donate to an organization, but it’s another to take a person who has been through these treatments and actually give them back something they had lost,” Banchik said.
Smiles for Survivors provides dental care at no cost to patients who have undergone or are undergoing breast cancer treatment.
At first, Banchik and her husband were solely running the operations of Smiles for Survivors. But soon, many dental professionals contributed their time to the foundation. Because the foundation does not hold fundraisers, contributions are made through service.
“We had oral surgeons, endodontists, periodontists, all that came together and said, ‘If you have a patient that needs our help, we’ll help,’” Banchik said. “We came together as a community to help care for these patients and we’ve been doing it since 2010.”
Banchik said the first Smiles for Survivors patient was a young, single mother whose family had died in a car accident. The foundation was able to help her get the dental treatment she needed as she battled a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer.
“We just feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to put a smile on her face and do something for her that nobody else could do,” Banchik said. “That’s one story that sticks out in my mind, but there have been many others since.”
Since moving to Waxhaw, Banchik has seen local patients through referrals from local hospitals and cancer centers. She said patients apply for the program by filling out a short application describing their situation. They also need a letter of recommendation from a healthcare professional. Most of the patients in the program have a financial need for the services.
Patients in Smiles for Survivors are seen during Reafield Dental’s regular hours and are treated no differently than the office’s ordinary patients, Banchik said.
In addition to Smiles for Survivors, Banchik and her husband support many community organizations.
“We moved to Waxhaw because we wanted to be a part of a small community and we wanted to help the community grow and be better than it was when we got there,” Banchik said. “We see our patients everywhere we go and it’s important to give back and care for the community that welcomed us when we first moved here.”
The community has recognized Reafield Dental and the Banchik family for their service to Union County. After only being in practice for a year, the Union County Chamber of Commerce presented Reafield Dental with the 2019 Community Impact Award.
“Drs. Leon and Olya Banchik understand the importance of giving back to the community and encourage that culture of community service in their practice,” Chamber President Pat Kahle wrote in an email to The Weekly Waxhaw. “The Union County Chamber membership consists of businesses of all sizes that positively impact the quality of life in our community through their contribution of time and funding. Reafield Dental is a great example of this. The Banchiks saw a need and have worked diligently to meet that need.”
Banchik hopes to see Smiles for Survivors grow and help more patients.
“I know once the word really gets out, there’s going to be more patients than a single small practice can help,” she said. “We would love other dentists and specialists to join that would be willing to work with our patients.”