For Kathi Russ, an American Cancer Society volunteer in Concord, it all started when a friend invited her to a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk 18 years ago.
Her friend had just been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29.
“Of course I wanted to do anything I could to support her,” Russ said. “I recall being actually quite surprised about how few people were at the event, and I thought, ‘I’m not coming back until I bring more people!’ The next year I came back and we doubled the amount of people who participated.”
Now, the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks are much bigger events, with thousands of people participating in towns across New Hampshire.
This year’s walks will be on Sunday, Oct. 20. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“It’s really a wonderful day,” said Russ. “There are a lot of things to do, a lot of different people. It’s a vehicle to heal the heart, it’s a way to honor and celebrate survivors, and it gives people the opportunity to remember those we’ve lost.”
The special appeal of raising money with a walk, Russ said, is that it gives a physical sense of accomplishment in the fight against breast cancer.
“For some people it’s completing that 5 miles and coming back to the field and feeling like they’re putting something behind them,” she said. “Over the years it’s really been embraced by the greater Concord community. We’re very fortunate.”
Robin Dixon has also seen how a community can come together to fight breast cancer. As manager at Nashua Harley-Davidson in Merrimack and an ACS volunteer, Dixon has been bringing together bikers and non-bikers with an annual Fashion Show and Live Auction to support people currently going through cancer treatment.
“Some of these folks have never even been in a Harley-Davidson store before,” Dixon laughed.
The sixth annual event, on Saturday, Oct. 19, will include a fashion show of Harley-Davidson wear, including a lot of pink jackets and boots from a line showing support for the fight against breast cancer (Dixon noted that there will be a lot of bikers in pink in this crowd). This year, the fashion show will also add lingerie and high-end consignment clothing. The audience will be treated to a big barbecue dinner with food donated by Texas Roadhouse and live music.
Then the bidding begins.
“The live auction is primarily why everybody’s here,” said Dixon. “They’re here to open up their wallets and give, give, give. That evening is what it’s all about: giving back to ACS.”
Dixon said she personally has a lot to give back for.
“One of the biggest reasons that I do this is because of everybody I’ve lost,” she said.
For her, this event is part of the wider fight against all kinds of cancer.
“A couple of years ago, right after the auction, my father was re-diagnosed with his lung cancer again, and I really never thought I’d see him again in the audience at the auction,” Dixon said.
Not only was he at the auction last year, but an ornament that he made brought in $850. All of that money went back to ACS, the organization that Dixon said is “helping keep my dad alive.”
The fight against breast cancer, and all cancers, is a year-round struggle, but dedicating a month to breast cancer provides a milestone for those with cancer, and those who have beaten it.
It is also a reminder that there is still work to do.
“Just raising awareness and encouraging women to get screening is not enough,” said Nancy Ryan, president of the New Hampshire Breast Cancer Coalition. Instead, she urges Granite Staters to give their support to organizations that actively search for a cure, and that help take care of those who currently have breast cancer.
The biggest NHBCC event this October will be The GhostRunner 5K, a family fun 5K Road Race/Walk in Nashua on Sunday, Oct. 27. There will also be a lot of smaller, more local events to support the NHBCC, like Center Stage Dance Fitness’s exercise event, in Merrimack on Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20. Small and local as these events may be, the NHBCC is “very dependent on these community fundraisers to support our work and our mission,” Ryan said.