By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
8:22 PM EDT, October 20, 2012
Enthusiasm and pink were big players Saturday on the campus of Hagerstown Community College.
Outside, people strode with spirit and purpose as triumphant music blared across the grounds. Inside, others shimmied and thrust to saucy Latin tunes.
The signature pink of breast cancer awareness showed up high in the air on balloons. It waved on tribute flags and decorated the shirts of hundreds. It was the color of a Gumby-like ribbon costume that wrapped around the neck of a woman and extended the length of her body, and it dyed the hair of humans and the fur of dogs.
The commotion was part of a show of support for Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley and the group’s largest annual fundraiser, Step 'n Stride. Participants walked five miles around campus or joined in a zumbathon at the HCC’s Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.
Joan Fell, executive director of the nonprofit, said more than 1,000 people attended the event, which raised about $180,000, primarily through sponsorships and donations.
“We have the most comprehensive breast cancer support program in the nation right here in the Cumberland Valley,” Fell said. “It encompasses early detection programs and after-diagnosis support programs.”
Fell said because the group is a local nonprofit and is unaffiliated with any other agency, it is able to rapidly initiate and establish programs to meet the needs it identifies in the community.
“The board of directors sets up new programs and we can get going,” she said.
Breast Cancer Awareness has an annual budget of about $450,000 and serves several thousand people each year, Fell said. Programs are free and include provision of mammograms and breast ultrasounds; a support group; wig and prosthesis banks; dinner for people receiving cancer treatments; and a special-needs bank to help patients meet basic living expenses during treatment.
Fell said program participants must meet financial guidelines, but that guidelines are set broadly at 350 percent of the poverty level.
“People find it hard to believe that the services we provide are free,” she said. “Everything raised here today, we turn around and put it right back into our community. That’s not always the case, and people appreciate that.”
Donna Bidle of Hagerstown said her friend, Kelly Bell, battled breast cancer for more than a decade before succumbing to the disease last April. Bidle attended the event along with Bell’s husband, mother and sister.
“I think it’s awesome to be here and see not only survivors walking around, but to see flags honoring people who were lost, and to generate some money for good that stays in the local Tri-State area,” she said.
Debbie Hummel received services from Breast Cancer Awareness after her diagnosis in 2009, then began serving others through the organization as a board member. She has been in remission for two years.
“When I went through chemo and radiation, I used the wig program, dinner, everything they provide. The support is just tremendous,” Hummel said. “We don’t pry into everything, but we are there for you to do anything we can to support because it’s an awful time.”
Kim Keefer, 32, of Hagerstown, walked in honor of her grandmother, who is a breast cancer survivor. Her friend, Brandy Kreitz, 32, of Thurmont, Md., walked in honor of her aunt, who also is a survivor.
“If we can help prevent our daughters from having (breast cancer), or do something to help treat it, that’s what we want to do,” Kreitz said.
Carole Hopkins of Hagerstown walked with her daughter, Beth Reyes, 46, also of Hagerstown. Hopkins lost another daughter, Laurie Shinham, to breast cancer a year and a half ago. Shinham had battled to live until the birth of her first grandchild, a goal she met. She received services from Breast Cancer Awareness during that time.
Hopkins said having cancer often causes patients to feel depressed and to isolate themselves.
“All people have to do while you are going through treatment is look at you and they know. You know the sadness they feel and they are helpless,” she said.
Hopkins said Breast Cancer Awareness offers people to empathize with patients and to give desperately needed encouragement.
“Sometimes, it’s just so helpful to have someone who knows what you are going through,” she said. “Someone to give you a hug. Someone just to say, ‘I am here for you.’”
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