LAKEWOOD RANCH -- With a cool and sunny Saturday morning to inspire them, thousands participated in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at the Sarasota Polo Club.
Part of an annual national event sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Making Strides of Sarasota/Manatee brought out families, friends, co-workers, students and more than 200 teams of individuals all eager to celebrate and support those who have survived breast cancer and those fighting to combat the disease.
The signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society, the monetary support given by walkers around the country has led to better treatment therapies and a 30 percent decline in breast cancer diagnoses since 1979, according to national organizers.
Although the final tally of the Lakewood Ranch 5K walk around the polo grounds hasn't been determined yet, organizers said they expect collections from individuals, teams of walkers and corporate sponsors to surpass last year's amount.
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Before the walkers, led by breast cancer survivors, lined up in front of an arch of pink and white balloons, District 5 Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, first-time chair of the event, called the crowd dressed in pink an opti
mistic sign of the future.
"We can beat this disease that brings us out to this field every year. We're going to beat it. We have already done so much," she said,
Baugh pointed to $78.9 million worth of research grants which the American Cancer Society has invested to help more than 232,000 women in the United States who have been diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
"We will be there every step of the way and we'll help you go through your journey round-the-clock," Baugh told the pumped-up crowd.
Bringing attention to the cause
B.J. Burnside of Parrish, who has twice survived breast cancer and who was volunteering at the survivor booth, said this was her sixth walk for a cure.
"I celebrate every year. The last time I had cancer was in 2001 and I got through it with the support of my friends, family and God. This brings attention and with that comes more people donating for the cause and helping out."
Anita DeVine, a member of the Mid-Coastal Florida Volunteer Leadership Council for the American Cancer Society, said an important part of recovering from breast cancer is helping patients get the services they need, such as transportation to qand from their treatments. The American Cancer Society trains volunteer drivers and schedules rides for patients when family members and friends aren't available.
"This isn't just for older people. If a younger person gets cancer and needs to go to treatment, very often friends or significant others have to work and can't take off time consistently. We always need people to volunteer and some of the volunteers have formed lasting relationships with our patients," DeVine said while handing out brochures about the ride program to interested participants.
Information from the American Cancer Society was also available to walkers about early detection of breast cancer and the necessity of regular mammograms.
Event Co-chair Kathy Collins said she was pleased with the turnout, which she estimated to be about 7,000.
"All the funds we collect will help with research and education which is what helps those in the past get forward and hopefully prevent those in the future from ever getting breast cancer. We are getting closer to that goal," Collins said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.