The ladies in pink are returning to Santa Barbara. Since 2003, the coast-to-coast Avon Breast Cancer Walk has raised more than $380 million — with last year’s event bringing in more than $55 million — for regional and national breast cancer organizations. This money enables women who do not have health insurance to receive treatment, including surgery, and helps pay for medical research. Thousands of participants will take to Southern California beaches and neighborhoods today and Sunday to raise funds and generate awareness.
Susan Haley, a veteran walker, shared a story about a friend whose husband passed away, leaving her without insurance. The friend was soon diagnosed with breast cancer — every three minutes a woman somewhere in the country receives the troubling news — and didn’t know what to do. She reached out to Haley, who contacted the Avon Foundation on her behalf. The organization completely covered the friend’s medical costs. “This is what makes me so dedicated,” said Haley in a recent interview.
The local walk, totaling nearly 40 miles split between two days, begins at Chase Palm Park, goes to the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club, and ends at Carpinteria Beach. Attendees are asked to raise a minimum of $1,800 in order to participate. Most find the sum easy to reach, but there are options for those unable to before the walk. Christian Barton, another veteran walker, gave some advice for anyone having trouble fundraising: “Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t try and determine who you should and shouldn’t ask,” she said, “because you don’t know who has been been affected by breast cancer. Ask everybody. The worst they can do is say no.”
A few data points put the significance of the walk, and the funds raised, in perspective. According to the California Cancer Registry, Santa Barbara County over a four-year period — 2005 through 2009 — saw 1,724 breast cancer diagnoses; 240 people succumbed to it. Throughout California, 113,981 people were diagnosed in that time frame; 21,000 passed away.
The women during this weekend’s walk — it is a female-only event, but men are welcome to cheer them along — come from all over the country. Jill Shear, a retired oncology nurse who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and went through treatment, including a double mastectomy, is one the participants. This is her first time doing the walk, and she said she was “nervous about making it!” Shear never imagined she would find herself in the role of the patient. Her treatment and recovery were a challenging mental shift for her, she said, and the event signifies an emotional culmination of the healing process. She credits her sister-in-law for pushing her to sign up, and for training and walking with her. So far, Shear has raised $3,746 dollars.
Christine Barton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 at 38 years old. A few years later, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. Barton said she really struggled with her first 10-mile training walk, but now does 26-mile walks with ease. “The situation” she said, “is that a 10-mile walk is nothing compared to the treatment you have to go through to get through breast cancer. If you can beat that, you can do anything.” This year, she is walking with her little sister. As she has only taken part in prior California walks, Barton thought about flying to New York City, as the image of thousands of women walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, she said, is just “incredible.”
The original version of this story erroneously stated that this was a “female-only event.” In fact, men are welcome and many men participate in this walk.