When Lois Joseph and Ann Harris met while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2001, they discovered a mutual concern over a missing link in breast cancer services.

That missing link was education and information for breast cancer patients, available in a relaxed, non-medical setting.

"The information is out there, but it's given to you in the doctor's office or hospital, right after you hear the words 'You have breast cancer,''' said Harris, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Patients are often reeling at that point, she said.

So Harris and Joseph decided to create the Living With Breast Cancer Conference, an upbeat, educational event that drew 500 people its first year. Ten years later, the conference -- held last weekend in Minneapolis -- is still going strong.

The women also created the Breast Cancer Awareness Association, a nonprofit organization, to oversee their efforts. The association both sponsors the annual conference and acts as a resource to breast cancer patients throughout the year.

"We want to provide the most up-to-date information on detection, treatment and survivor- ship [of breast cancer],'' said Harris. "We also want to provide hope and inspiration.''

The conference, for example, ends with a fashion show featuring "great music, great fashions,'' she said. But the clothing is never mentioned. The models walk the runway, and the emcee introduces their personal stories.

"There's not a dry eye in the house,'' said Harris.

Both Harris and Joseph also personally answer calls and e-mails to the Breast Cancer Awareness Association, providing another set of eyes and ears for cancer patients.

"There are so many aspects of breast cancer -- the emotional aspect, the financial aspect, losing a part of your body,'' said Joseph, a Minnetonka businesswoman. "We just want to give people a place to learn about breast cancer options in a non-intimidating environment.''

For more information, go to www.bcaamn.org.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511