Rhodes on the Pawtuxet was filled with motivational breast cancer survivors, uplifted community members and about 100 pink balloons during an inspirational kickoff breakfast for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer last Thursday.
With more than 500 people in attendance, including Governor Lincoln Chafee, Barbara Morse Silva of WJAR NBC10, the television sponsor of Making Strides, served as the event’s master of ceremonies. In 2001, Morse Silva lost her cousin to breast cancer and told the crowd that, unfortunately, 870 Rhode Island residents will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
“We want a cure for breast cancer and we don’t want any woman or man – because men fight breast cancer, as well – to ever have to fight this disease,” said Morse Silva. “If we have to fight it, we want a cure. We want to get more people involved – that’s why we’re here. Breast cancer is insidious, destroys lives, wreaks havoc on families – it does not rest.”
One of every two people diagnosed with breast cancer seeks help and support from the society. Making Strides enables them to provide free resources and programs to individuals diagnosed and fund research to find, prevent, treat and cure breast cancer and ensure access to mammograms for people in need.
To stay healthy, the society advises women aged 40 and older receive mammograms once a year.
“One year can make a difference,” said Morse Silva.
But the organization needs money to help and that’s where the 20th annual three-mile Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk of Providence comes in. Last year, more than 6,000 walkers took part in the event – in the snow, no less – and raised $900,000.
This year, they hope to raise even more funds at the walk, which will take place Oct. 21 at Roger William’s Park.
Along with Morse Silva, Diane Allen, of Stoughton, Mass., addressed the assembly and shared her ideas for fundraising tips. While she never personally battled breast cancer, she lost her mother, Peggy, to breast cancer, and her sister also had a bout with it. To her relief, her sister has been in remission for 11 years.
In honor of her mother, Allen and her loved ones take part in the walk each year. Their team, Peggy’s Patriots, of which she is team captain, collectively raise at least $15,000 per year. Since 1994, they have raised more than $250,000.
“Making Strides isn’t about a race. It’s not about a run [and] it’s not even about a walk,” she said to the crowd. “It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to stand with thousands of others who have been touched and plagued by this terrible disease. Breast cancer is not going to win today. Today, we are going to win [by] providing more help and letting the men and women in Rhode Island know they are not alone. We will fight for better access to fight breast cancer, better breast cancer screening and treatment.”
All too often, said Allen, people get caught up with day-to-day chores and forget how vital it is to help. She encouraged attendees to become a team leader, a role that requires a person to recruit at least 10 teammates, with each of them raising $100 or more.
“Most of you will most likely far exceed that goal,” Allen said. “Please know it makes all of the difference in the world. Most of the funds raised are made from regular people like you and me.”
She also said helping out is as easy as holding a bake sale.
“I sold a cookie for $100 once – I’m that good,” she said. “Keep the cookies and the cupcakes coming because they do make a difference.”
Allen went on to note a few examples of what the money is used for. First, she said a $130 donation funds a wig for a patient who is losing his or her hair during treatment.
“I know how expensive wigs are because in 1968 my mother had to buy a wig and we all scraped up a bit of money to get one,” Allen said.
Also, $200 funds a stay for a patient who needs care at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Boston. In the last year, more than 20 Rhode Island residents have received care at the facility, said Allen.
Additionally, $2,000 covers the supplies, space and manpower necessary for one week’s worth of six American Cancer Society-funded researchers at schools within the state.
Those who raise $2,000 or more annually are known as “pace-setters,” and Allen, along with a handful of others at the event, is in this category.
Jessica Tyler, of Cat Country 98.1, was also in attendance and interviewed a few “pace-setters.”
Alyssa Panciocco of Johnston, whose relative suffered breast cancer, raised $5,000 in online donations. Her strategy was simple – email everyone on her contact list.
“We did it as a family,” she said.
In an interview, Panciocco said events like last week’s breakfast and the walk encourage her to continue “making strides.” It also helps her stay positive.
“Usually, everything is so negative, but this helps,” she said. “They understand what you are going through and put you in a network with other families that are going through the same type of things.”
Cancer survivor Laurie Pichette of North Kingstown agreed that emailing, and posting information to social media sites like Facebook, is highly effective. She also sends letters to everyone she knows.
“Believe it or not, every day there’s an envelope in my mailbox with a check in it,” Pichette said. “You’d be surprised. It just takes a little time and effort.”
Pichette was diagnosed in 2003 and started her fundraising efforts in 2004. In a year’s time, she was able to raise a staggering $13,000.
Through the years, however, she realized she’d have to change her tactics and decided to come up with easy ways to seek donations like selling candy bars and having an annual yard sale.
“I love Making Strides,” she said. “Ever since I was diagnosed, I just wanted to give back.”
Other people are also interested in giving back. That’s why Shawn Lynch, district director for Southern Rhode Island Stop & Shop, told his employees he’d wear pink if they raised at least $6,000 as a means to encourage them. They answered by raising $7,800 for last year’s walk.
“I received a text – it was three simple words, but in my head I heard, ‘You’re wearing pink, you’re wearing pink,’” he said in the tone of a menacing tone.
This year, he’s challenging his employees to raise even more and put on a pink tutu in front of the crowd to further motivate them.
And he’s not the only one who dons pink costumes to raise funds and awareness. For the last six years, Johnston residents Amanda and Caitlin Faella have been dressing up as Pink Power Rangers at the walk.
Amanda was named the 2011 “Super Fan” and was acknowledged at the breakfast, which she attended with Caitlin and their mother, Brenda-Lee Troia, the administrative assistant to the Johnston School Department superintendent.
“Sometimes little kids don’t want to walk so early in the morning, but they get really excited when they see us,” Amanda said. “And it’s fun.”
“It’s one of the most inspiring days of the year,” Troia added.
As is the walk, said Allen.
“You can look back on your life and say, ‘I did what I had to do, I did what I can; I had the power to change the world,” she said. “I fought back against breast cancer. I didn’t sit back and wait for other people to do it instead.”
For more information or to register for the walk, visit cancer.org/stridesonline.