Why Breast Cancer Fundraisers are Important to Support

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Today I took a journey. No, not one of those metaphysical “journeys” you take when you go through cancer. I’m talking about a real, physical journey: 20 kilometers, 12 1/2 miles, step by step around the community in which I live. And while it was a true physical journey, it was also a very emotional one; today I walked in a cancer fund-raiser.

    Early this morning, just after the sun rose, I decided that to make this journey I needed my very favorite pair of shorts, which unfortunately were stuffed in my locker at the gym, several miles away. They felt like an amulet–how could I walk 12 miles, unless it was in the company of my favorite shorts? The early morning was cool and gray, damp with fog. As I made the quick trip, cars with bikes atop their roofs appeared through the mist, a ghostly procession, one after the other, all heading to “the Prouty,” the nickname of this 25-year-old cycle-run-walk cancer fund-raiser. Most of the 3000 participants are from right here in the Upper Valley, a stretch of river-bottom farmland and rolling hills along the Connecticut River between Vermont’s Green Mountains, and New Hampshire’s Whites. Over 1000 cyclists would ride up to 100 miles each to raise money. Non-cyclists like me–I could no more ride a bike 100 miles than I could sprout wings and fly–would walk anywhere from 5k to 20k. Among us, we’d gathered just over $1 million in pledges, a new all-time record. All to fund cancer research. All of it staying right here at our local cancer center, where so many of us have heard those deadly words–“You have cancer”–and then fought to take our lives back.
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    This is a bittersweet event for most of us. We walk and bike in memory of those we’ve lost, in honor of those still with us. I walked for my dad, who died of cancer 2 years ago; and for Kathy, my son’s 7th grade French teacher, who became a good friend as she followed right after me down the cancer path, 4 years ago. I made it through; Kathy didn’t. She left a husband, a 2-year-old daughter, her extended family, and a community of colleagues at the local middle school who did every walk, every fund-raiser, took every step they could to pull her through… but she didn’t make it. Cancer is like that–random. It takes some of us, and leaves some, with no regard for age, zest for living, children left behind. We never know which of us will draw the short straw.

    I thought about this randomness as I walked (and walked, and walked) with my seven-member team through the neighborhoods of town, along the highway, through woods and fields thigh-high in grass, the sun growing uncomfortably hot. Five of us are breast cancer survivors; one of us has been down the road twice. Would we all be back here next year, groaning about tired feet, sore backs, mosquitoes? Would we have another chance to laugh with one another about our divoted, lopped-off, re-sculpted breasts? (Whose look the most natural? Whose surgeon did the best job?) Or will one of us be gone, a casualty in the game of statistics that cancer patients play? Who WILL draw the short straw?

  • At last we reached the long, hot, uphill straightaway that marked the end of our journey. Waiting under trees alongside the road, those who’d finished ahead of us began to clap as our group–now down to three–trudged those final 100 yards. Suddenly, I couldn’t help myself; I broke into a jog. Damned if I was going to walk all that way to beat cancer and then crawl across the finish line! Cancer is a blight on humanity, but it won’t get the best of me; it won’t get the best of us. We’ll keep fighting–some with scalpels and drugs, some with the courage to try a new type of chemo, and some by walking 12 miles on a hot summer day so that someday, somewhere, someone will discover the secret we’ve all been waiting for: a cure.
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Published On: July 11, 2006