DAYTONA BEACH — It was not Raelene Blake’s first breast cancer walk, but it was her first year walking as a survivor.
Blake, 43, of Palm Coast, had an army behind her filled with family, friends and Target co-workers. They all dressed in gray shirts with a pink breast cancer ribbon and “Team Raelene” printed on the back.
“It’s been hard fighting,” Blake said. “But it’s made me stronger as a person and made me realize what’s important in life.”
What’s important for Blake is family — which includes her husband, two children and three step-children — friends and quality of life.
“When I was first diagnosed I was really worried about how my kids would react and their future,” said Blake with tears in her eyes. “They were worried but they are doing really well with it.”
Survivors, supporters and volunteers crowded the grass of Riverfront Park to mark the 25th annual march through the city’s heart for the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.” A welcoming 60 degrees kicked off the event, with more than 10,000 participants dressed mostly in various pink attire as they emptied out of the park and onto Beach Street.
Cities across the country hold walks each year to raise money for local cancer programs and research. Saturday’s walk raised $183,601, according to the event’s website.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 252,710 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. On the plus side, the death rate from the disease has fallen dramatically in the last 15 years due to improvements in treatment and early detection.
This year a main focus for the American Cancer Society is access to care, according to Tenna Pappas, area program manager for mission delivery.
“The top reason that cancer patients don’t receive care is because they can’t get there,” Pappas said from her booth at the park. “We have a Road To Recovery program where volunteers provide rides to patients at no cost.”
Makayla Edwards, 19, a freshman at Bethune-Cookman University, signed up to volunteer at the walk in support of her aunt who is battling breast cancer.
“The best part is seeing the survivors,” Edwards said. “It’s been really hard watching my aunt battle it so I wanted to do something to help the cause.”
Ugene Brady, 79, of DeLand, came out to the walk to support his wife, Sheila, who had a double mastectomy seven years ago to get rid of two types of cancer in her breasts.
“The worst part of the whole thing was the 10-hour operation,” Brady said. “But it was the right decision. She’s in remission and she’s here with me.”
Sheila said that the double mastectomy was an extremely hard decision but she had “no other choice.”
“If I wanted to live, this is what I needed to do,” Sheila said. She finally finished taking her medication last year. “When we walk across the stage here I get very emotional, knowing that I am not alone.”
For Shakia Moore, of Daytona Beach, the walk is a way for her to remember not only her mother but also her father. Both died of breast cancer.
“It was a lot of hard work taking care of them,” Moore said. “A lot of tough nights feeling like I was an island.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,550 men will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though breast cancer is less likely in men, it still happens.
“It was a shock to both of us when we found out,” Moore said of her father. “He was the first man I knew that had breast cancer but we had a very supportive doctor that helped us through it.”
Both of Moore’s parents passed away before they reached 50 years old. Her mother passed first in 2002. It wasn’t until a year later that her father was diagnosed. He passed away in 2006.
“He was a fighter,” Moore said. “He treated every day as if he was going to live.”
Moore has been walking every year since her mother passed and said it is her way of not feeling like an island and gives her a sense of “community, support and encouragement.”