By Chris Stone
On Oct. 16, 2014, Dana Shiring of Carlsbad and Cynthia Halvax of San Diego got the same terrible news. They each were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Saturday evening, they hugged each other as Shiring crossed the finish line on the second day of the annual Susan Komen 3-Day Walk, held in San Diego since 2004.
Halvax was a crew member, checking walkers out of a tent-filled camp in Crown Point at daybreak.
“I was really shocked. I thought ‘That’s not happening,’” Halvax, 55, said of seeing a sign on Shiring, 45, showing the date of her diagnosis. It was her date, too.
Now they are sisters in the cause.
Both were part of a three-day journey that benefits breast cancer research — each of the about 2,200 walkers had to raise $2,300. Organizers said $5.9 million was raised this year.
The event also saw help from a thousand crew members and volunteers.
Earlier in the day, Shiring told of having a couple of friends who passed away from breast cancer. With her own diagnosts, it “made it even more important for me to help find a cure.”
Three months ago, her treatment complete, she received a card saying she was cancer-free.
The support she has received along her walking journey has motivated her.
“It just gets you so excited to keep going and finish regardless of how much your feet hurt or how tired you are,” she said during lunch at Bonita Cove Park. “It’s amazing.”
Indeed everyone from walkers to crew to cheerleaders have a story to tell. It usually starts with a cancer diagnosis for them, a relative or a friend.
The internal burdens they carried on their journeys weren’t immediately obvious.But the tears that welled in their eyes when asked why they walked gave a hint of the pain they had.
Walkers started early Friday morning at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and finished their journey Sunday night at Petco Park.
In the 60-mile journey, they camped in tents, were nourished at pit stops, bandaged at medical tents and cheered by San Diegans at every step.
San Diego police officers, on their days off, biked beside the walkers, playing music to keep spirits up, protecting them and even dancing for them at lunch time.
In the middle of the Crown Point camp site, a tent has touching photos — images of those who lost their battle with cancer.
Walkers, nurses, police officers and cheerleaders shared their stories along the route.
Alone but together: Sandra Wafer
Walking by herself, Wafer said: “I have my moments when I want to be by myself, but it never fails — someone comes along and says, ‘How are you doing? Are you doing OK? Come on, you can walk with us.’”
“When we’re walking uphill, people will say, ‘I got you. You can do it. Come on, keep going. One more step. So there’s a camaraderie that you don’t see very often. It’s great.”
The Michigan resident, 54, said she’s walking because her mom had breast cancer. Her mother, first diagnosed in 2008, had successful results. But in 2011 the cancer returned and she passed away last year.
“I tried to walk last year, but it was entirely too emotional, so I’m walking this year,” she said, displaying her mother’s breast cancer teddy bear. “I brought him along with me.”
Wafer hopes evryone’s efforts mean the end of breast cancer.
“It’s affecting so many women and men now,” she said. “It’s good to see so many men out here being more supportive than in past years. I think that’s really cool.”
The Couple: Lenora and Donald Goodliffe
“I’ve had a number of friends who lost their lives to breast cancer, but I’ve also had friends who survived and I really believe that the research that’s being done gives us a chance to see more survivors,” said Lenora, 65.
“I also think that keeping the disease in the public eye helps. Breast cancer used to be one of those things that women couldn’t talk about because it involved the private parts.”
As long as diseases are whispered, the Escondido resident said, they can be ignored, “so I think this really gets people’s attention.”
The walk is fun, she said — doing something harder than you’ve ever done before.
Husband Donald, 64, used to be a support person, cheering on the sidelines when his wife walked for several years. But then: “I just got inspired by the women” and joined the walk himself.
“I’m kind of fond of breasts, so I’m involved in the cause,” he said. “I want to see a cure. I just feel sorry for anyone who has to go through that. It’s just inspiring being out here.”
Walking as a couple “makes the walk so much better,” Lenora Goodliffe said.
The Walking Buddies: Mary Callaway and Kate Butt
“I have no fears,” said Callaway of Rochester, New York. “Once you’ve had cancer, what else can happen to you?”
At the 3-Day, “You meet so many lovely people. It’s a new lease on life. It’s positive for body, mind and spirit.”
Butt of Redmond, Washington, said, “I’m really positive about Komen. Their money gave me a treatment option. In the past, the only option was to lose a part of your body. I owe a huge thanks to Komen.”
Leann Cortimiglia, crew captain
“I just want to find a cure for cancer,” said Cortimiglia, a retired nurse at UCSD’s burn center. A veteran of 20 Komen walks, she said
most medical personnel at Komen have a “personal experience, someone in our family” touched by the disease.
She was among doctors, nurses, EMTs, sports medicine specialists, students and physical therapists from throughout San Diego treating walkers at pit stops and at camp at night.
The UCSD Moore Cancer Center sponsored medical care at the event — with helpers “all going in on direction,” Cortimiglia said. “It’s like the perfect ideal community.
“There’s none of this ‘I’m red and you’re blue.’ It’s just the nicest environment to be in.”
Helping at Komen is like being an ER in a small city, she said, “so we can get pre-term labor; we had a heart attack one year. We have people with lots of knee issues. But mostly blisters and dehydration.”
Some walkers had not prepared well, though. “With the heat wave, we’re seeing people who are a little overstressed,” Cortimiglia said.
San Diego police Sgt. Paul Salas
Salas has worked for the city 27 years, he said, “and it’s given me a great life, and I want to give back. This is one of the ways I give back.”
He said he enjoyed riding, dancing and singing with the walkers, “supporting them, motivating them every day for three days.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better time from people from all over the country and especially here from San Diego. It’s great. I love it.”
Cindy Keltner of San Diego
Famed for wearing large plastic breasts that walkers post on Facebook, Keltner has cheered at Komen for 10 years, calling it “an awesome feeling.”
“I randomly meet people who are special,” said Keltner. “They will tell you their personal stories, snippets of their ordeal. And you make a connection. You may never see them again, but the connection was made.”
Asked why she cheered, Keltner started listing in-laws, cousins and friends struck by the disease.
Breast cancer “affects us all and has taken so many mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins,” she said after cheering at the Taylor branch library cheering station on Cass Street.
“I have met people from all over the U.S. and other countries,” she said. “All of these women are walking for friends and family. It’s wonderful.”
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