Two words come to mind when Charmaine deBoer thinks about the Weekend to End Breast Cancer event: humbling and inspiring.
DeBoer took part in the two-day, 60-kilometre walk last year with her cousin Andrea Andrew and friend Kim Fraser. The trio will be walking again this year, joined by Andrew’s sister Denise Bloch and seven others, making up team “These Boobs R Made 4 Walking.”
“You just feel so uplifted the whole time,” deBoer said. “Along the walk there are people lining the street with signs for you saying ‘Way to go’ or ‘Thanks for walking for me because I can’t.’”
DeBoer and Andrew learned about the walk from a television ad. They both have family and friends affected by the disease, and thought it was a great event for a great cause.
“I’m the kind of person that if something’s presented to me or a challenge is put before me, it’s kind of hard not to take it, Andrew said. “For a situation such as this, what could possibly be my reason for not taking up the challenge?”
Taking place Sept. 11-13 this year, the walk is the single largest event fundraiser for breast cancer in Canada. Last year there were 4,757 walkers in Toronto, collectively raising more than $13 million. In six years, the event has raised $60 million for breast cancer research, treatment and care at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
Aside from doing the walk itself, the challenging part is raising the required $2,000 per person, which adds up to $22,000 for the team. DeBoer said they’ve noticed this year it’s a little tougher for people to come up with the money, so they’re trying to be creative.
Today Andrew and Bloch will be selling flowers and chocolates outside the Elmira LCBO.
They’re also offering to do yardwork for people who need their grass cut or lawn raked, donating the payment and issuing a tax receipt. Last year deBoer painted a house for a family in Conestogo who donated $1,000.
“If it’s not something we can do, we’ll find someone who can who will volunteer their time for us,” she said.
Fraser likes to remind people that “breasts come in all sizes, and so do donations.”
“It’s true, every little bit helps,” deBoer said. “I’ve got a little cousin and she’s giving me $5, and to her that’s a lot of money.”
Last year Andrew and deBoer were amazed at how well-organized the event was, given the thousands of people taking part. The walk starts at Exhibition Place and winds through downtown Toronto. Walkers camp overnight at an old airfield, then make their way back to Exhibition Place.
The route is lined with cheering supporters wearing T-shirts and carrying signs. Some people decorate their houses; others offer the walkers water and snacks. Last year, they passed a house with a DJ spinning for a dance party in the driveway and an Italian couple with a cappuccino machine.
DeBoer said there was a 90-year-old woman doing the walk, another man in his 80s who had lost his wife to breast cancer, and a woman in a wheelchair who wheeled the entire route, her hands covered in blisters.
“It poured rain the second day from start to finish, so we walked for about six hours in the pouring rain and I did not hear one person complain, not one. Because you realize, ‘man I’m so lucky I can do this walk.’”
Bloch, who missed out on the walk last year because her son was only four months old, is hoping her children will be at the finish line to cheer the end of her walk.
“I think it’s a good example for my children too, to just be part of community events like this, just to show them it’s good to give back even if you’re not personally affected,” she said.
Registration for the event is still open. If anyone would like to take part and is looking for a team to join, they can contact deBoer at email@example.com.