A sea of pink flooded the CLC YMCA in Damariscotta on Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Midcoast’s annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
It was inspiring to see survivors and families turn “their pain into purpose, their anger into action, and their fear into fight,” said Diane Nicholson, senior event support manager with the American Cancer Society, which facilitates Making Strides fundraisers.
When contributions are totaled, the fundraiser is expected to raise over $40,000 for breast cancer research and patient services, she said.
Though the event is typically held outdoors, organizers decided last-minute to move the walk indoors because of the heavy rain forecasted for the weekend.
Nicholson said she was grateful to the CLC YMCA for opening their doors to the fundraiser.
“It’s such a great partnership,” she said, emphasizing that as a community center, the Y was a great spot for a community-centric event like Making Strides.
In the gymnasium, the vivid pink clothing donned by walkers and the boundless enthusiasm of the crowd more than made up for Sunday’s gray skies. With music provided by Maine-based country singer Orville Lee and vivid pink streamers and balloons adorning the walls of the gym, over 130 walkers circled the gym’s 1/10 mile track in a show of solidarity and hope in the fight against breast cancer.
Turnout was strong, “in true Damariscotta fashion,” said emcee Larry Sidelinger. “You should all be proud of this effort,” he told the crowd.
Sidelinger, whose wife is a breast cancer survivor, said he has emceed the event for the past five or six years.
“It’s really a privilege to be able to help support this event,” he said.
Also in attendance was Bethany Zell, an Aroostook County-based health advocate who organizes with ACS Cancer Action Network. Zell said that this year’s event was particularly meaningful, as she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in spring of this year after advocating for breast cancer research and awareness for over 10 years.
A cancer diagnosis can carry particular challenges for Mainers, Zell said, including the sparse distribution of cancer care centers in rural areas. The long drives and travel costs, from accommodation to gas money, in addition to the high cost of treatment itself are often a barrier to Mainers seeking care, she said.
Zell gave the example of radiation therapy, which is typically administered daily. But in rural Maine, some residents may have to drive hours to their nearest treatment center. This means that getting treatment on a daily basis is not always feasible, she said.
“Some people do less radiation because they can’t be there,” Zell said. Not everyone can “just take time off for cancer,” she added.
Many local businesses and organizations organized walking teams and contributed to the fundraiser.
The Renys team had a strong turnout, said Tammy Lincoln, front office manager at the Renys office and distribution center in Newcastle. Representatives from local stores as well as farther-flung locations, including Farmington and Madison, came to walk with the team, she said.
Lincoln said she had attended the Making Strides walk for several years, and felt that progress in the fight against breast cancer was evident.
“There are more survivors than there used to be, which is awesome to see,” she said.
The survivors in attendance at the walk were welcomed by the survivor camp table, presented by the Maine Health Cancer Care Network.
Alumnae of the international women’s fraternity Zeta Tau Alpha organized fundraising raffles at the event. The fraternity is active in breast cancer advocacy and philanthropy across America, said alum Amelia Grant, who noted that this was their first time representing at the Midcoast Making Strides event.
“I feel proud of Zeta’s philanthropy,” said Grant’s neighbor and fellow alum Christine Leary, who joined together with Grant to bring the fraternity’s support to Midcoast Strides.
“It’s touching to see the strength of the survivors in attendance and their families who come to support them,” she said.
Nicholson emphasized the vital role of local volunteers in making the event the success that it was. “Volunteer leaders are what make our mission possible,” she said. “This community works so hard to help the American Cancer Society save lives from breast cancer every year.”