FIGHTING BREAST CANCER

This article ran in the Daily Break section of the Virginian Pilot on Thursday, October 5, 2000.

"Journey of the Heart"
By Annie Strickler

Our team of seven stood silently in our own circle, gripping one another's hands, tears streaming down our cheeks.

We were among the 2,675 walkers at the closing ceremonies of the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day Walk in Atlanta. What began as a 60-mile walk for breast cancer evolved into a journey of the heart the weekend of Sept. 22-24.

Last December my mom, Lynda Strickler of Virginia Beach, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a lumpectomy and seven months of chemotherapy, she is now finishing up radiation at Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center. She is just one of about 175,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the United States. There are 2 million breast cancer survivors alive in the U.S. today -- 133 of them joined us on the walk.

Our "dream team" consisted of two longtime friends from Virginia Beach, Danby Snodgrass and Ryan Shadrick, both of whom graduated with me from First Colonial in 1994. They were joined by Liz Cook, Liz Getten, Lisa Currin, Mary Stewart Holmes and myself.

The walk was a test of endurance, challenging our patience and stamina. Friday it was the rain. The early morning drizzle quickly developed into a steady downpour, flooding the campsite and sending walkers to a local high school or hotel for the night.

The beautiful scenery of North Georgia came at a price Saturday as we confronted a combination of hills, fatigue and emerging blisters. But our real rest came on Sunday when walkers resorted to speed walking in the hot sun to outpace the "sweeper vans" trailing the route collecting stragglers.

Amid the walkers was collective spirit undeterred by obstacles, driven by an intensely passionate goal: beat breast cancer. All along the route were reminders of why we were walking through the rain, wind, heat, aches and hills. Groups of people were stationed along the walk with signs, costumes and music that lent enthusiasm and encouragement. Drivers honked their horns in support.

The breast cancer survivors wearing "I've Fought For My Life" T-shirts were especially inspriational. If they could overcome breast cancer and make it up that hill in the rain with a smile, we had no excuse not to do the same.

There were poignant, handwritten signs clipped to people's shirts with messages such as, "For mom: I would walk 1,000 miles for 1 more day with you." Just ahead of us one afternoon was a woman who was walking for her friend, Heather, who died at the age of 28 on Sept. 15 -- one week before the walk.

We each walked for our own reasons and in honor of mothers, neighbors, aunts, grandmothers, stangers, friends.

One such inspiration was Amy Spore, a friend who graduated from First Colonial with us. Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer last Auguest, three weeks after her 24th birthday. Just two years ago, Amy participated in a fundraising walk for breast cancer. At that time she said, "It was just a concept...a worthy cause. But it wasn't real. I think people should be cognizant that this is real for everyone and that life is short at all times."

More than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year -- one every 13 minutes. One in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. The numbers are staggering.

Yet just as remarkable are these numbers: during the Atlanta Three-Day event, walkers from 41 states and three countries helped riase $5 million for the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. Our team raised more than $20,000, which will go for breast cancer research and outreach programs. We shared tears and laughter with thousands of women, each of believing that every mile we walked made a difference.

Copyright 2000 The Virginian-Pilot

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