Survivors thrive in stride

They’ve been walking for cancer for 15 years. The first event was in 2002, the year that Rosemary Clooney’s lung cancer ended her life at age 74. She sang beloved classics like “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Members of the Breast Cancer Support Group of Sun City (BCSG) are missing friends who’ve passed too soon. That’s why they began walking.

On Saturday, September 30 at 9:30 a.m., the 15th Annual 5K Walk for Cancer will be held at Sun City. It is co-sponsored by the Sun City Fitness Department. This year, a one-mile option is available for those who prefer a shorter course. Walk proceeds support local cancer patients, families and organizations that serve them.

In early 2001, Audrey Munger founded the BCSG with a small gathering in her home.

“I retired and moved here with my husband, Carl, right after completing breast cancer treatment. I needed to talk to people who would understand what I’d been through. We’ve never been a ‘pity party,’ but our members listen to each other and feel a bond whether they were diagnosed 40 years or four months ago. We share the joy of survival and gratitude for each day. The Walk is our way to encourage awareness and assure others that they are not alone,” she said.

Current U.S. Breast Cancer statistics show that about one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. (A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.) While about 40,610 U.S. women are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, mortality rates have declined since 1989. Treatment advances, earlier detection and increased awareness are credited.

“Once you have it, you are never the same,” said Lorraine Handlin, long-time member of the group. She was diagnosed in 2003 after her sister’s doctor recommended she start having mammograms.

“After surgery and treatments, my doctor called me ‘cancer-free.’ But that little voice always says, ‘It might come back.’ So, I joined a group of women who helped me and we try to help others.”

Sun City’s 30-member BCSG meets at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month from March through December to socialize, share support and hear local speakers. Janette Dennis, diagnosed at age 61 in 2015 and now cancer-free, is happy to hear from women who are interested in the group. She can be reached at 630-248-7060.

Walkers may register by mail beginning on August 10. (Registration forms are available in Sun City’s resident publication, Lifestyles, and by email request to Jan@LivingStories.us.) On Thursday, August 31, Tuesday, September 5 and Friday, September 8, registrations will be taken from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside the Fitness Center in Prairie Lodge at Sun City. Cash or checks will be accepted for the $15 fee per person. Registrants on or before September 8 will receive a custom-designed t-shirt, water and post-walk refreshments. Participants may also register on Walk day beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Fountain View Pavilion.

Midge Novy moved to Sun City in 2004, was diagnosed in 2005 and joined the BCSG in early 2007.

“The friendships and emotional support from other women in the same boat made my health challenges easier to bear,” she said. “In 2008, I ended up at our Walk’s raffle table selling tickets to win a beautiful donated quilt and took it over from then on. I just love fabrics, the accomplishment of putting them all together, and the joy of giving them away,” said Novy. She has made and donated five quilts over the years. “We earn over $600 just from the raffle. In the last few years, more handmade items and other donated prizes have been added for drawings at the Walk itself.” Quilt raffle tickets are available at 6 for $5 by calling Midge at 847-669-5713.

“Our small group’s record of well over 200 walkers and proceeds of $7-10,000 is something we’re proud of,” said Andrea Berebitsky, chair of this year’s Walk. “What we donate isn’t enough to cover large medical bills, but rather little things like gas, parking for doctor and hospital visits, groceries or a dinner out to manage the stress of being away from home. Over the past five years, we have given nearly $25,000 in 32 separate contributions. In several cases, local families have children living with cancer. We’ve also supported the Gavers Breast Center in Crystal Lake for advanced imaging equipment and hospitals for women who cannot afford mammograms.”

Three charitable projects of Sun City’s Sew and Sews Club have been regular beneficiaries of the BCSG’s Walk proceeds. Charleen Kelly uses $500-1000 per year to buy nine large rolls at a time of batting for quilts given to Project Linus at the recent rate of 120 per month. The national charity links with regional groups to distribute handmade blankets to children in need or in crisis.

“Comer Children’s Hospital asks us to design and package 100 quilts just for teens and toddlers,” said Kelly. “Lutheran General requests treasure blankets that are decorated by loved ones for terminally ill children. We’re happy to respond to real needs like these, but we couldn’t meet the demand without the support of the BCSG and proceeds from its Walk.”

Sew and Sews member Linda Hinkley appreciates support given her group over the years to buy yarn for the Baby Caps and blankets it donates to hospitals; and Deanna Engelke echoes the thanks for Head Huggers material to sew hats for chemotherapy patients.

Esther Goebbert’s family’s business, Goebbert’s Pumpkin and Farm Market on Route 47 in Hampshire, has donated cider and donuts to refresh walkers at the end of each event.

“We all give where we can,” she said, “and this is our way of lending support for a need that is very personal.” A 28-year cancer survivor, Esther enjoys seeing Walk participants after their journey. “One runner said to me, ‘I only signed up for the donuts.’ I know that’s not true, but I’m in favor of whatever leads people to help.”

“We want everyone who can to participate,” said Lorraine Handlin. “It’s not just for athletes. We are open to registrations from people who decide to sleep in that morning! They will be wearing our shirts as well.”

On September 30, 5K Walkers will start at Fountain View Pavilion and head west on Del Webb Boulevard. At Cold Springs Drive, they will turn right and follow it back to Prairie Lodge. One-mile walkers will follow a path circling the nearby fountain three times.

Elizabeth Anderson, a 40-year survivor, said, “We try to show people, be they survivors like us or families struggling with their loved ones’ condition, that they are not alone. Together, we have made a difference for people facing this disease. That’s why we’ve stayed with the effort all these years.”

Charlene Hurt, diagnosed in 1987 and again in 2006, has been with the group since the beginning. “Our walk is successful because everyone has been touched in some way by cancer. Many of our walkers are remembering or honoring someone in their family with their participation.”

Sandy Hupert and her husband, Carl, have lived in Sun City for 13 years and participated in the walk for 12. “My neighbor invited me the first time, and now I just view it as an annual opportunity to exercise, socialize and support a good cause. Of course, there’s also the perfect seasonal treat, cider donuts, at the end.”

Corporate sponsorships underwrite t-shirts, water and advertising for the event. This year, Centegra Health System and First National Bank in Huntley are early participants. For more information about Sun City’s September 30 Walk for Cancer, including sponsorship, call Andrea Berebitsky at 847-669-6076. Should you know a local individual or family that could benefit from the group’s support, contact Pat Oakley at 847-669-6090.

The contagious enthusiasm of Sun City’s BCSG, along with better screening and cancer care, is allowing more families to agree with the lyrics Rosemary Clooney recorded in 1959:

“Just in time, I found you just in time…

Now you’re here and now I know just where I’m going

No more doubt or fear, I found my way.”

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