About 1,700 people gathered to march around Celebration Pointe and raise money for victims of breast cancer Saturday morning.
The event, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Gainesville, was hosted by the American Cancer Society to clinch a $100,000 donation goal as part of a campaign that kicked off in August. It soon turned into a victory march.
Participants had the choice to walk or run a 1K or a 5K. The march started at 9 a.m., but the ACS had already reached its goal hours earlier.
“When I went to bed last night at 11 o’clock, we were $2,000 away from the goal,” said Kyle Stone, the ACS Senior Manager of Community Development. “When I woke up this morning at 4 a.m., we were $1,000 over goal. So we’re doing really well.”
ACS will use the donations for cancer research and to provide free lodging and rides to treatment for people with breast cancer, Stone said.
Jennifer McKathan, the ACS Cancer Control Strategic Partnership Manager, said it will also fund a reach-to-recovery program, a phone app that connects breast cancer patients to survivors.
“They’re able to understand them better,” McKathan said. “What they’re going through, their journey, their difficulties, the side effects, mentally what goes through your mind when someone tells you you have cancer.”
The World Health Organization recognizes breast cancer as the most common form of cancer worldwide. Despite its widespread impacts, survivors of breast cancer cheered, laughed and smiled as music boomed around the event’s plaza, which was decorated with pink tents, pink balloons and a big, pink blow-up couch that was at least 10 feet tall.
ACS also offered pom-poms, photo opportunities and pink hair dye to attendees. Cheerleading teams from Eastside High School, Buchholz High School, Gainesville High School and Westwood Middle School all attended the event, with some dancing in the center of the plaza.
The main sponsors, UF Health and the North Florida Regional Medical Center, both had surgeons at the event.
“I look forward to it every year,” said Lisa Spiguel, a breast surgeon at UF Health. “It’s just such an awesome opportunity for the community to come together and really support an awesome cause.”
She also explained women need to start screening for breast cancer once they’re 40 years old. Some are at a higher risk than others and may need to get screened sooner, Spiguel added.
Sean Benoit is the chief medical officer at North Florida Regional Medical Center, an ambassador for Real Men Wear Pink and a trained surgeon. He further reinforced the seriousness of breast cancer.
“We’re still trying to figure out all the reasons why it occurs,” Benoit said. “It can be deadly if left untreated.”
More than 280,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease in this year alone, Benoit added.
Many people at the event have felt the ramifications of breast cancer, either personally or through family members and friends.
Madeline Torres, 58, came from Ocala and attended the event with her son Brendan and her husband Eddie, who was holding a “Team Maddie” sign. She credited them for getting her through intensive treatment.
“Six years cancer free,” Torres said. “My cousin did this beautiful sign. Greatest family support. And after eight rounds of chemo, double mastectomies, 83 rounds of radiation, and I’m still standing tall.”
Other people at the march lost loved ones to the disease.
Cassandra Davis, 67, said she lost her mother to breast cancer roughly 20 years ago and now attends the Making Strides event every year.
“I was glad to see all these people that are still able to walk and enjoy and survive,” Davis said after finishing the march. “Nice crowd. Good atmosphere. Lots of good volunteers.”
Stone praised the new event chair, Fitz Koehler, for this year’s increased enthusiasm. A race announcer and breast cancer survivor, Koehler roared with encouragement as people crossed the finish line. Throughout the event, she announced how long survivors have been free of cancer.
“It’s meaningful. This is the victory lap,” Koehler said. “Today is a celebration of life and a celebration of the good things to come.”
Zachary Carnell is a contributing writer for The Alligator.