In life, people come and go. Acquaintances often seem to be tied to things like our current job or whatever activities we’re presently involved in. However, if you’re fortunate, there are people you stay connected to despite moving in new and different directions. I’m fortunate that Patricia Santangelo, a colleague I’d worked with in a former position, has kept in contact with me.
Patricia and I often connect in the late spring and early summer every year. It’s getting to the point where I not only expect to hear from her around that time, I look forward to hearing from her. Why? Patricia is whole-heartedly involved in the Susan G. Komen 3-DayTM sixty mile walk and her enthusiasm for the event and the fight against breast cancer is contagious in itself.
I have immense respect for and greatly admire Patricia’s commitment to combating breast cancer. Patricia, for the last three years, manages to train while working full time as a human relations professional. In that same time period, Patricia’s participation alone raised over $7,000 towards breast cancer research; during the same three years, the Michigan 3-Day walkers have raised more than $12 Million dollars.
Believing that awareness begets action and that one’s personal experience can be inspiring to many, and with October being breast cancer awareness month, I thought it was the perfect time to once again re-connect with Patricia and find out why the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk is so important to her.
LA: Why is breast cancer awareness so important to you?
PS: Throughout my life, and more frequently these past 10 years, I have seen friends or co-workers diagnosed with breast cancer. Although I am fortunate that no one in my family has suffered from any form of cancer, I felt I needed to do something to help find a cure for breast cancer and, hopefully, for cancer in all its forms.
LA: What about breast cancer affects you the most?
PS: The number of people who are impacted by the disease. And please see that specifically say “people”; men suffer from breast cancer as well – the issue is that men do not screen for breast cancer as women do. One of every one hundred new cases of breast cancer occurs in men. It also distresses me to know that there are some women without medical coverage that are unable to pay for mammograms and therefore do not have the benefit of early diagnosis, which is the best route to survival.
LA: Your support of and participation in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk always inspires me. Why are you so vested in this particular event?
PS: The 3-Day not only raises funds for research and prevention, but it raises awareness of breast cancer because by walking through different neighborhoods, we make people conscious of the risks and the need of prevention and support.
LA: Have you met any inspiring people in training or participating in 3-Day?
PS: Many! From survivors with fantastic stories of how they built the strength to fight and the importance of their family support along the way, to people that simply want to make a difference and find a cure. In 2010, one of my fellow walkers was a woman named Joan. At the time she was a survivor, a wonderful woman that believed in the cause because she witnessed firsthand the changes in breast cancer treatment over the years. Unfortunately, Joan was not able to join us for the walk in 2011. While we were walking, she was losing her last battle with breast cancer. She was walking with us in spirit and we know she was with us as well during the 2012 walk.
LA: What are some of your most memorable experiences from the walk?
PS: Watching a fellow walker named George, who is now 80 years old, walk every year. He has more energy than most of us. Also, seeing the same “walker-stalkers” every year. These are people that do not walk, but who make it a mission to be out there during the 3-Day to cheer the walkers and raise our motivation to continue walking. Some of the most “famous” walker-stalkers are “The Dancing Lady” who has music playing and is always dancing and cheering us on and the “Kid Crew” a father and his three children who are always cheering us while their mother is walking.
LA: Is there a palpable sense of camaraderie? If yes, is it emotional?
PS: Yes. And it is very emotional. The first year, when my husband picked me up at the closing ceremony, he didn’t understand why I was crying. You walk and you see people of all ages walking, women who are undergoing chemotherapy who still make an effort to walk. You hear the stories. You meet new people. You walk with different people at different times during the day. The kindness and camaraderie is so special it is difficult to express in words.
LA: Why have you participated in the 3-Day year after year?
PS: This is a very important cause. Breast cancer affects all, women and men, and, unfortunately, women are starting to be affected younger. But, the key to survival is early diagnosis. Everything we can do to create more awareness and to raise funds, both for research and also to help those without coverage get screenings, is more than worthwhile.
LA: Has your participation in the 3-Day inspired anyone else?
PS: My participation has certainly generated awareness at work and with friends. Several co-workers have now expressed their intent of participating as well. I take every opportunity I have to talk about the walk, the cause, the importance of screening, and about the fact that men also have breast cancer, a fact that few men know.
There are many rewards to participating in the 3-Day; aside from the monies raised, getting to meet like minded people or people who are currently in the trenches battling breast cancer, there is another benefit: a sense of intense personal achievement “that I am helping find a cure for cancer, not only breast cancer. I am a believer that it doesn’t matter which form of cancer finds a cure first. That cure will certainly drive cures for other forms of cancer as well,” says Patricia.
Photo credit: Patricia Santangelo