Though Livonia resident Georgia Monroe’s personal battle with breast cancer kept her from joining the thousands of participants in this weekend’s AVON Three-Day Walk, it did not stop her from taking part in the event, which crossed 60 miles of southeast Michigan.
“I wanted to walk,” Monroe said. Instead, she and her sister, Hope, decided to work on crew, transporting participants’ tents and baggage from one campsite to the next on the trek from Ann Arbor to Farmington Hills.
“It’s a way to take action instead of hiding” (from recognizing that the disease exists and affects so many people), Hope Monroe said.
“One thing that’s important is raising awareness,” said Jennifer Acord, public affairs manager for AVON.
The participants did just that. As 5,000 women and men walked through neighborhoods and streets, their purpose was to catch the attention of passersby, raising breast cancer awareness and funding for medical research and support.
Walkers were required to raise at least $1,900 to participate, with the average walker raising around $3,200, Acord said.
On this first Michigan walk, they raised $5.25 million.
Every state receives a portion of money collected from the walks, including a $500,000 grant to the Barbara Ann Karmonos Cancer Institute in Detroit.
But the event was about more than just the money. For many of the walkers, the cause struck home, whether they have been affected, know someone who has been or just believe in the cause.
Ten percent of the walkers were cancer survivors, while others walked in remembrance of loved ones taken by the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, one in nine women in the United States will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.
Joyce Walker, a University Housing Information Technology Office employee, said she decided to walk in honor of her aunt, Ida Smith, who died of breast cancer in 1996.
“This was a major challenge for me,” Walker said, commenting on her nervousness before embarking on the long journey. She and HITO employee Sara Staebler chose to do the walk together for mutual support.
“I had a scare,” Staebler said, referring to her own bout with breast cancer. Although the tests came back negative, Staebler remembers “what it was like to wait” and wonder about the results.
University alum Davong Shah lost his mother to breast cancer as a result of late detection – the ACS estimates 1 million women in the U.S. today are living with undetected breast cancer – and said he viewed the walk as an opportunity to speak to survivors about their experiences.
“There are still things I wonder about that [my mother] went through,” he said. Shah said he hoped to gain a better understanding of the disease.
“It’s something that will be very valuable,” he added.
Shah was joined by another University graduate, Mike Vaughn of Royal Oak. Vaughn said he walked to alert people of a disease that affected many of his family and friends.
“Hopefully it raises awareness. Hopefully we can beat this thing,” Vaughn said.
Besides using the event to bring attention to the disease, some participants joined the hike as part of a personal challenge.
Nursing junior Kathryn Sisterman asked her mother, Linda, to do the three-day walk with her.
“I say, ‘I wish she would have asked me to go to the mall or go out to lunch. Instead, she asked me to do the walk,'” Linda Sisterman said. But Kathryn Sisterman said she thought this was a much more beneficial bonding experience.
“I’m glad we’re putting it into this,” she said. “It’s a weekend and your money is going to a good cause.”