News: Making Strides: Walk supports breast cancer patients
Story by Christine Cabalo
Combating Breast Cancer: “Combating Breast Cancer” is a four-part series about how Hawaii’s military community is dealing with the disease. The series discusses how the disease impacts families in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This week’s article examines “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer,” a nationwide fundraiser by the American Cancer Society.
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii - The American Cancer Society predicts 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will occur in women this year in their latest facts and figures report.
To fight the disease, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii is one of many organizations setting up a team for the society’s Oct. 29 “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk in Honolulu. Similar walks will be held nationally, as thousands work to collect money for patients and research.
“I believe the walk empowers people,” said Mary Johnson, Makalapa Clinic breast health educator, NHCH. “The community comes together to show support for people who have been touched by breast cancer. The walk draws people of all ages. Breast cancer has no boundaries, and this gathering shows the many faces that have been touched.”
In her daily work, Johnson helps guide military service members and their family members through cancer treatment. In addition to the female clients she assists daily, her sister-in-law and seven of her close friends have been diagnosed with cancer.
“I have cared for several women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer over the past seven years,” Johnson said. “I have learned an incredible amount of patience, strength and knowledge from them. I walk to honor them and to honor those friends whom I have lost.”
Hundreds of participants will follow Johnson, who is also a jazzercise instructor, when she leads the crowd in a warm-up before the walk. Besides several Hawaii healthcare agencies and businesses forming teams, many in the military community have committed to walk as well.
Among them is Kayla Houle, a spouse of a Marine stationed with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 at Kaneohe Bay. Houle works with child cancer patients in her internship at the American Cancer Society and has seen how the non-profit organization helps firsthand.
“The ‘Making Strides Against Breast Cancer’ walk nearly generates our operating funds for an entire year,” Houle said. “Without funds, there would be no ASC and no support.”
Leading a team of approximately 20 members, Houle said her group includes many spouses of “Lucky Red Lions” personnel. Houle said it’s been inspiring to see not only military families, but many in the local community rally against breast cancer and remember loved ones who were diagnosed.
“Two of the women in our group had mothers who passed away from breast cancer,” she said. “We’ll wear pink ribbons honoring them specifically. Many of us are younger, but we all know [breast cancer] can happen to any of us.”
This year marks the third time the annual event has been held in Honolulu.
Military supporters are glad to see the event continue, including Petty Officer 2nd Class Kimberly Koleff, an information systems technician who works at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Koleff walks to celebrate her great-grandmother who had breast cancer, and in honor of her father who was diagnosed with a different form of cancer.
She has participated in the walk since Honolulu first hosted the event in 2009.
“I’ve seen so much support as the event grows,” she said. “You see a significant increase in the number of people supporting, from the second year and now the third. It’s unbelievable.”
With more than a dozen of her colleagues walking on her team, named “Team Hula Dancer,” Koleff said every person who participates makes a difference for increasing awareness. Both she and Johnson said more walkers also means more funds directly helping those with breast cancer.
“The dollars that are raised for the walk go to help survivors get to their appointment and gas cards are available as well as rides,” Johnson said. “The money helps to keep the [society] phone lines open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions that need answers and help women get access to mammograms.”
The donations also provide resources to patients and caregivers, funds research, supports several programs. Johnson noted the donations assist with “Look Good, Feel Better” program helping those in treatment handle cosmetics and in the “Reach to Recovery” program offering volunteer aid.
Whether joining a team or forming a new one, Houle said she hopes as many people as possible participate. Walkers with children in strollers are welcomed as well.
“We have a group of military spouses, but everyone is out there with us,” Houle said. “It’s great to see everyone come together.”
The “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk will be held Oct. 29 at Richardson Field at JBPHH near Makalapa Naval Housing beginning 7 a.m. For more information, see www.makingstrideshonolulu.org/ or call 432-9153.