Pink army walks for the cure

Tampa’s Maria Simon, left, and Andrea Peterson, right, comfort Lisa Heil, center, during a pit stop on Treasure Island on Saturday. Heil lost her mother last week. This is Heil’s fourth year participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Tampa’s Maria Simon, left, and Andrea Peterson, right, comfort Lisa Heil, center, during a pit stop on Treasure Island on Saturday. Heil lost her mother last week. This is Heil’s fourth year participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

MADEIRA BEACH

There are three words Ellen Wilkerson never wants her 13-year-old daughter to hear:

"You have cancer."

Wilkerson, 52, has heard those words twice, in January 2002 and in March 2005.

The first time, she cried, but knew God would pull her through it. The second time, she asked why.

"I have three friends who are currently going through treatment," she said. "I don't want to see anybody else go through this."

Since Friday, she and more than 1,600 others — most wearing pink — have waged war against breast cancer.

Their plan of attack: the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, which wraps up today in St. Petersburg.

Their weapon: tennis shoes.

Komen for the Cure has raised $500 million for research, screenings and treatment of breast cancer since 2003, spokeswoman Melina Bland said.

There was no walk in Biloxi, Miss., where Wilkerson lives. The closest ones were in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. She chose Tampa because of the warmth and the beaches.

Wilkerson has been in remission since September 2006 and takes medication daily. She was one of 222 breast cancer survivors to participate in the Tampa walk.

"We hope to get our community more aware," she said.

• • •

It took K.C. Haffey two years to muster up enough courage to join the sea of walkers in pink.

"It's not that easy for a guy to go, 'I'm going to walk with 1,600 women,' " said Haffey, one of 185 men in this weekend's walk. "The last couple of years, I kept going, 'I should do it.' Finally I said, 'Wait a minute! This is five years. This is special. I have to do it — for her and for others.' "

Five years ago this month, his wife, CarolAnn, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a month she went from victim to survivor.

"If my wife hadn't discovered it early," said Haffey, 59, of St. Petersburg, "I might not have been celebrating today.

"How lucky I am to still have my wife. It brings tears to my eyes."

And it keeps him motivated. A few years ago, he didn't have the discipline to walk 10 miles. Since January, when he began training for the walk, he's logged 900.

"I've been everywhere in St. Pete," he said. "I feel like the Forrest Gump of walking."

He said he'll be back next year, and he hopes more men will join him.

"Everybody I know I'm telling them, 'I'm doing this. Why aren't you?'

"Everybody has stories of families that have been involved with breast cancer."

• • •

When Kim Emmert signed up for her first walk, she did it for admittedly selfish reasons.

"A physical challenge," she said.

Emmert, 46, doesn't have any family members who have been affected by the disease.

But as soon as she started training, and co-workers got wind of what she was doing, they opened up and told her stories they'd never shared with her.

Half of the 150 women at her job in Canton, Mich., were either breast cancer survivors or had relatives who were.

"I realized how many people it impacted," said Emmert, an area manager at Weight Watchers. "Then it just became something entirely different."

Since that revelation, Emmert has participated in four breast cancer walks. The Tampa Bay walk is her second this year.

"It's an amazing event," she said. "I just learn more about myself and how thankful I need to be about life."

Pink army walks for the cure 10/30/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 31, 2010 12:27am]

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