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Cancer walk ends with flying colors

ST. PETERSBURG — They were a sea of hot pink and glitter, their breast cancer survival T-shirts layered with feather boas, tutus and fuchsia bras.

As participants in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk cheered one another across the finish line Sunday at St. Petersburg's Straub Park after trekking 60 miles over three days, they all seemed to share the same opinion.

"I wish I could do it again," said Oma Khan, 56, of Tampa, who wore a sun hat decorated in pink lace and walked to support her sister, a breast cancer survivor.

With hardly a cloud in the sky, the event turned its final page in Tampa Bay this weekend, raising $2.2 million and attracting 850 participants in its ninth and final year as one of the area's foremost fundraisers. Last year, an estimated 1,300 people participated and raised $2.5 million.

Dwindling funds and participation have forced organizers to pull out of Tampa Bay and six other U.S. cities in 2014, spokeswoman Sheri Phillips said.

The mood Sunday was joyful, but also nostalgic for many people who acknowledged they might not have the money or vacation time to travel to another city that will host the walks.

Already the event is a heavy lift, requiring participants to raise $2,300 to participate.

Since Friday, hundreds of people from Tampa Bay and across the country camped in pink tents at Walter Fuller Park in St. Petersburg, sealing new friendships.

Each person, it seemed, had either survived breast cancer or was celebrating a survivor. Many people — sick and healthy — also gave support from the sidelines.

As the crowd meandered through neighborhoods, parents and their children passed out drinks and deodorant, offering chairs and bathrooms for those in need of a break.

At stop lights, people offered donations from their cars.

The support, some people said, belies media coverage about the organization's short-lived plan to cut funding for breast cancer education and screening by Planned Parenthood.

Komen quickly reversed the decision and several executives resigned. Still, the effort alienated some people who viewed it as a statement against legal abortions, which Planned Parenthood also provides.

Within months, participation in the 3-Day events was down 25 percent across the country.

Renae Vernon, 45, of Valrico finished the weekend's trek alongside Linda Stafford, 53, of Brandon.

They both have family members who battled breast cancer and carried a banner that said "Eight years of walking together."

Vernon said she's been hurt by the news coverage because she knows the good deeds Komen does — including paying for a breast cancer survivor she knows to receive $300,000 in treatment.

Stafford, who has a hurt hip, said she doesn't see herself traveling out-of-state for a 3-Day next year, which made this year's walk with Vernon even more "bittersweet."

After the final participant crossed the finish line Sunday, the hundreds of exhilarated walkers held hands, stopped for pictures and chatted as they walked to nearby Spa Beach Park for the closing ceremonies.

Within five minutes, workers at Straub Park deflated the giant pink and black goal posts that marked the finish line. A man in a golf cart picked up forgotten water bottles and other trash.

The pink merchandise was packed into a white van.

And suddenly, where minutes before there was a loud, jubilant party, it was quiet.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or 727-445-4155.

Cancer walk ends with flying colors 10/27/13 [Last modified: Sunday, October 27, 2013 11:34pm]
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