‘We have to be vigilant.’ Breast cancer fighters and their supporters hit streets

A crowd estimated at more than 3,000 people put on a lot of pink — shirts, skirts, boas, bandannas, capes and more — in Modesto’s ninth annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event Sunday. They walked to celebrate victories over cancer, to remember those lost to it, to get a boost as they battle the disease themselves.

And they raised money for the American Cancer Society to fund breast cancer research, support patients in recovery, and more. Early Sunday afternoon, an event page online showed it had raised more than $91,000.

Shannon Bunnell of Lodi first did a Making Strides walk nearly a decade ago in support of her mother-in-law, who’s now a nine-year survivor. “I’m currently going through breast cancer myself,” Bunnell said Sunday, adding that she’s doing well. “I start chemo on Friday.” She was out with her own team Sunday — 23 people walking with her, wearing her T-shirt and supporting her as she prepares to begin the treatment.

Robin Adams of Modesto was out to walk with 7-year-old granddaughter Kassidy Isiordia and others. Adams was diagnosed in 2015, had a tumor removed and underwent a year of chemotherapy, and was found cancer-free in July 2016. “I’m out here to support the ladies,” she said. “Their support helped me, so I’m paying it forward.”

T-shirts worn by many participants ran the gamut from inspiring to thankful to humorous. Friends Laura Kay, a six-year survivor from Escalon, and Quantelle Daniels, a Modestan who’s been cancer-free for five years, walked together. The former wore a shirt reading “My husband promised to love me in sickness and in health,” while the latter’s proclaimed “Cancer picked the wrong queen.”

“We get our annual checkups and we’re cleared again!” Kay said as the two made their way along Graceada Park.

Prior to the 5K walk, participants gathered on Tenth Street Plaza, where they heard from speakers. Among those who shared messages was Susan Powers, who’s a cancer survivor and registered nurse. “As a seven-year survivor, I know that I am very blessed,” she said. “Not everyone gets to be at this survivor state. Cancer comes back. We have to be vigilant.”

At age 25, Powers lost her 48-year-old mother to cancer. “Way too young.” She told members of the crowd never to ignore any changes in their bodies — any lump, any abnormality, deserves attention.

In July 2012, Powers had a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and full reconstructive surgery. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. To cheers from her listeners, she said, “I stand here today as a hometown girl of Modesto, with a passion to make a difference and to be a picture of survivor.”

To learn more, go to the Facebook page “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Modesto-Stockton” or to cancer.org or makingstrides.acsevents.org.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.