Family, friends support cancer survivors at fundraising walk

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — It was a morning of hope, love and strength as people of all ages and both genders arrived wearing symbolic pink to participate in the Indian River County Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Riverview Park in Sebastian.

Saturday’s event drew hundreds of people, creating a sea of pink and a giant wave of emotion that swept across breast cancer survivors, family members and friends affected by the disease.

Holding handmade pink signs with the words Hope, Love and Strength was Irene Weckerle, mother of a breast cancer survivor.

“It is devastating when someone you love is diagnosed,” she said. “It affects the whole family. And the person needs a lot of love and support.”

That is exactly what Rhonda, her 43-year-old daughter, received on Saturday as her parents, husband and children joined her for laps around the park. In public for the first time without a wig, her hair having grown back after months of chemotherapy, Rhonda has had bilateral mastectomies, chemotherapy and reconstruction since being diagnosed in February.

Ahead of the non-competitive walk, breast cancer survivors were beckoned to the front of the stage by program emcees Geoff Moore and Ali Mac of 93.7 FM The Breeze, and applauded for their courage.

Warm up exercises then commenced to upbeat rhythms provided by Richard Perry of Anything Under the Stars Entertainment.

Jeanne Bresett, a two-year breast cancer survivor, shared her personal story from the stage. Buoyed by the support of friends and her sister, who flew in from Maine for the event, she said, “It’s crucial to have knowledge and your treatment team. And my family and friends have gotten me through this.”

Dr. Heather Nagel, diagnostic radiologist at Vero Radiology, emphasized the importance of early detection. Wearing a doctor’s white coat that she dyed pink, Nagel highlighted the importance of annual clinical breast exams and mammograms starting at age 40. Women should start doing breast self-exams in their 20s, according to American Cancer Society (ACS) early detection guidelines.

Watching survivors as they stretched before they would head off for laps around Riverview Park and along the Indian River Lagoon, Holly Hodge felt inspired by the vibe and personal stories shared that morning.

“It’s very uplifting and humbling,” she said. “It gives you so much energy being around women who have had to be so strong emotionally and physically.”

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is the largest network of breast cancer awareness events in the nation, uniting more than 300 communities. The events are an opportunity to honor those who have battled breast cancer, raise awareness about reducing breast cancer risk and raise money to help the American Cancer Society fund research, provide information and offer services.

Aside from some forms of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form for women in the United States. This year, some 232,670 new cases will be diagnosed in women and about 2,360 new cases in men, according to the ACS. There are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors.

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