Wednesday, October 15, 2008

baystateparent Contributor Gets Full Heart-Tired Legs

How to Get a Full Heart and Tired Legs

Here are all the details about how you can change lives by signing up for the May 2009 7th Annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

By Leslie Castillo

The 2008 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer greeted me much like it had in 2007: the opening ceremony included an inspirational video, animated speakers, a wide array of breakfast foods, and, a side order of dousing rain. Still, I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

I grabbed a banana and coffee and scanned the crowd for Christy. When I finally spotted her navy-blue rain gear, I ran to meet her, thrilled to once again see my friend from New York. In less than thirty minutes we would set out on another adventure, catching up on each other’s lives and motivating one another over the next two days and forty miles.

At 7:30 a.m., a winding caterpillar of pink hats, tee-shirts, and rain gear from some 2,900 participants made its way from the campus of UMASS Boston on a journey which would pass by Carson Beach and meander through the streets of the North End. It would include sights such as M.I.T and the Museum of Science before reaching its final first 26.2 mile destination at Prowse Farm in Canton.

Husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, moms, dads, sons, daughters, and friends, including 200 survivors, some native Bostonians, others from different states and even different countries, set out to participate in this 6th annual event to raise money, awareness and hope. We walked as one, sharing stories and songs, band-aids, tears and smiles.

Along our route we encountered the wonderful crew members that made the walk possible, some of whom had traveled many miles by motorcycle in the pouring rain to make it to Boston; others would honk and cheer us on from bra-clad vans, keeping an ever-present vigil on our progress. Some manned the rest stops and kept us laughing with their creative costumes and interesting themes.

And then there were the survivors who clapped us on and thanked us, and the residents whose homes lined the routes, generously supplying us with their never-ending coolers of water, Gatorade and other goodies.

Like Boston’s walk, all other Avon Walks for Breast Cancer, (now hosted in nine cities throughout the US) take place over a weekend. Participants register on Friday night. An opening ceremony on Saturday and an optional 13 or 26.2-mile walk are followed by a night spent in the Wellness Center. Walkers then head back to the starting destination on Sunday, trekking the last 13 miles.

The day no one really tells you about is Monday. You may walk a little different for a while but you’re filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment like no other. This year, after Christy and I rested a bit too long at Mile Marker 24 and cramped up a bit, my new shirt, which read “Full Heart – Tired Legs,” seemed especially fitting for Monday.

Walkers must raise a minimum of $1,800 in order to participate. This year’s Boston participants raised over 6.9 million dollars. As a result, grants were awarded to different hospitals and organizations throughout the city.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer will always be my walk of choice. It is superbly structured and caters to the comfort and safety of the walkers by means of informative literature and instructions, well-spread out stops and the ever-present van patrol. If ever hope were tangible, nowhere has it seemed more visible than in the faces of the participants in the weekend’s parade of pink.

Leslie Catillo is a Wayland-based freelance writer and mother of two boys. She regularly contributes to baystateparent.

Ready, Set, Hope: May 16 – 17, 2009: Walk for 2 days and 39 miles. To RSVP for an introduction meeting or to get more information, please go to or call 617-576-3113.

Meeting Friends along the Way

Rosemary Akin, Yarmouthport

For a stretch I walked with Rosemary Akin, an incredible woman who made me feel that all good things are possible. Her tee-shirt first caught my eye: two appropriately placed baseballs with the phrase, “Save Second Base.”

Akin, survivor of colon and breast cancer, has faithfully participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer every year except for 2007 when her daughter underwent open-heart surgery. This spirited wife, mother and grandmother refers to her breasts as “bionic boobs,” rides a motorcycle and works as school nurse. Her strength comes from her faith, especially prayer, and from the everlasting support from husband and best friend, David, who constantly assures her that no matter what she looks like on the outside, she’ll always be beautiful on the inside.

Although this year’s walk broke cold and damp, Akin found inspiration early on.
“An elderly woman was waving and cheering from her porch,” says Akin. “I waved and she told me to stop (I was proudly wearing my Avon survivor hat). She made her way down the stairs and gave me the biggest hug and said, ‘God Bless You.’ My feet and damp clothes did not matter because my heart was warm.”

At the Wellness Village where she is always amazed by the number of tents, an exhausted Akin was soon sound asleep after a welcome shower and dinner.

On Sunday she hit the road again for the 13-mile trek from Canton back to UMASS. Her excitement built as the mile markers got closer and closer to thirteen. Akin who admits never being able to walk the entrance to UMASS without tears running down her face, met her daughter, Danielle, and granddaughter, Preleigh, at Malibu Beach where they walked the final mile together.

Akin proudly gushes, “I did it – walked 39 miles and raised over $4,100 for breast cancer research. The closing ceremony was very powerful. All the walkers were parading in, making a horseshoe followed by all the Survivors wearing our light pink tee-shirts and shaking our white pom-poms. We were one that afternoon hoping that soon a cure for breast cancer will be found… I look at my daughter and granddaughters and hope they never have to face the pain of breast cancer.”

Daniel Flaherty, East Walpole

Christy and I met Daniel Flaherty on a long, straight stretch of hill in Dorchester. Flaherty remembers that hill well. “That hill was the worst part…it never seemed to end! It was so long and when it was over, I was thrilled!”

Nevertheless, although Flaherty was unable to train for his first walk due to his final schedule as a sophomore at Babson College, he completed all 39 miles and plans to make it an annual event.

Clad in a gold “Men with Heart” tee-shirt, this cheerful and pleasant young man decided to walk after his mother, Elaine, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in October 2007. Flaherty, who initially thought that raising the $1,800 would be difficult, will not forget how generous people were. In total, he raised nearly $4,000.

“Throughout this experience I was astonished by my mother’s strength and her ability not to allow her illness to consume her life. Throughout her treatment, she worked as a full-time nurse. It’s amazing that even though she was going through this, she was still there to help others.”

Flaherty, who found that the walk “ran smoothly, especially for the amount of people present,” met “kind, generous, and strong people” along the way and felt warmly welcomed by “Men with Heart,” a team of men dedicated to helping raise money and awareness for breast cancer (To learn more, visit

Robin O’Leary, Amesbury and Paula Kelly, Plaistow

A close-knit quartet is clad in customized wings and embroidered hats with halos, thanks to a creative streak by team captain Sherie Bourgeois. It was Bourgeois who also coined the group’s name, the Pink Angels of Hope.

Robin O’Leary joined the Angels when her sister Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time after a ten-year respite from the disease. “I heard an ad on the radio and decided in that moment that if she was going to have to go through the ordeal she was facing then the least I could do would be to walk 39 miles to raise funds and awareness. “ Soon thereafter she connected with Sherie Bourgeois, Bev Gaudet, Paula Kelly and Julie Hagel, via an Avon website bulletin board, and the North Shore women became fast friends and team members.

This year marks O’Leary’s third year participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and she is committed to walking until either a cure is found or she is no longer able to walk.

She credits the Avon Foundation for its dedication.“It never ceases to amaze me that the primary funds for breast cancer research and support programs come from ground up efforts such as the Avon Walk. There are many other organizations that run similar programs but the Avon Walk is the only one that returns over 90% of funds raised directly back into the community.”

Angel Kelly credits the walk with changing her for the better. “I’m in the best shape of my life at 49, and this is a gift the walk gave me.”

She adds, “The people I’ve met, the lives I’ve touched in both fundraising and in actually walking have enriched my life so much…My wonderful friends, the Pink Angels of Hope, are people I would have never met without doing this walk. They are truly special to me.”


Bianca said...

I love hearing inspirational stories like this!!!

Carol said...

enjoyed the article, it brought me right into the walk and the good that people do

Bhavini said...

Great article! It brings back memories of the Avon Walk I did in NY and you are absolutely right - on Monday and for days afterwards you feel SO great! The stories of your fellow walkers are so touching and warm the soul. Keep Walking and Writing!

Daniel Flaherty said...

Leslie, such kind words. Hope to see you at the 2009 Boston walk. I will be there in my Men With Heart shirt!!!