From the moment breast cancer dropped into Jennifer Steinmetz’ life like the worst kind of uninvited guest, the Keller woman resolved that she was not going to be beaten by the dreaded disease.
I was still mad and angry and wanted to let cancer know that it was not going to get the best of me.
So a year after surviving a double mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments, she accepted a friend’s invitation to take part in in the 2009 Susan G. Komen 3-Day, a 60-mile, three day walk branded as “the journey to the end of breast cancer.”
“I was still mad and angry and wanted to let cancer know that it was not going to get the best of me,” she recalls. “This was something I could do to take control of my life.”
Eight years later, Steinmetz, 62, still regards the 3-Day as her calling. Now part of the one of the top fund-raising teams based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Steinmetz set a new personal goal for herself: participating in 3-Day walks in three cities this year. That means 180 miles of walking in Dallas, Seattle and San Diego.
“The first year is the hardest,” she says. “After that, it gets a lot easier.”
Steinmetz is hardly alone in her dedication and perseverance with the Komen 3-Day. Many participants are repeat walkers and many also take part in other walks around the United States, according to officials with the Susan G. Komen organization, the largest and most highly-funded organization dedicated to breast cancer research, education and health service advocacy.
For nearly all, the Komen 3-Day is a life-changing event as a result of bonds formed, friendships forged along the route and the sense of accomplishment of completing a goal and having done something meaningful to help others.
Larger than Sue
(The walk) makes you feel that you are doing something larger than yourself.
That is certainly true for Sue Stryker Fletcher, who will walk in her 11th 3-Day in Dallas this year. Breast cancer did not loom as large for Fletcher as others when she first heard a radio promotion for the walk in 2005. Recalling a good friend whose sister had died of breast cancer many years earlier, prompted her to sign up.
With some amount of trepidation due to the time and fundraising commitment involved, the Keller mother of four thought this would be a one-time experience for her. Before she crossed the finish line of that first walk, she signed up for the next year.
“It’s very emotional, very emotional,” she says. “To see all the survivors and all the people who have lost a friend or loved one to breast cancer is overwhelming and makes you feel that you are doing something larger than yourself.”
Kristen’s labor of love
For Kristen Scalf, a 46-year-old mother of two, the motivation was personal. Her mother and father are both survivors. Two sisters-in law as well as many cousins and friends also have been stricken. One sister-in-law, Kim Scalf, accompanied her on her first walk in 2009 and was diagnosed in 2014 with breast cancer and survived.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” she says, choking back tears as she describes the journey that has led to her eighth walk. “There are so many people walking of all different backgrounds who have had cancer or lost friends and loved ones to cancer. Yes, it is a challenge but blisters don’t require chemo.”
Since the inception of the first Komen 3-Day in 2003 in San Francisco, 512,000 walkers and support crew members have taken part, resulting in $800,000,000 raised for research and treatment programs for breast cancer. Combined, walkers have taken 32,335,080,000 steps, amounting to 33 round trips to the moon, according to Komen officials.
The Dallas/Fort Worth walk Nov. 4-6 is one of the largest. Since its inception in 2005, the local walk has raised more than $64 million. The 2015 Dallas/Fort Worth walk had 1,100 walkers and 325 volunteer crew members who tend to logistics.
The Komen organization acknowledges that participation has declined and eliminated walks in seven cities several years ago following controversy over the organization’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. The 3-Day continues to take place annually in seven cities, including its home base in Dallas.
“Susan G. Komen is working to grow and evolve the 3-Day event so we can continue the fight to accomplish our goal of a world without breast cancer,” says Carrie Stovall, director of events for Susan G. Komen.
New this year is the 20-Mile Walker program for first-timers to give them a taste of the experience and attend the celebratory closing ceremony at every 3-Day event. Komen officials hope the 20-mile walkers will come back as 3-Day participants.
The organization provides 16- and 24-week training guides for walkers as well as fund-raising tips.
Without a doubt, the 3-Day is a physical challenge and requires a large financial commitment. Each walker must agree to raise at least $2,300 in donations. One-day participants must raise $750.
The organization provides 16- and 24-week training guides for walkers as well as fund-raising tips. Some walkers like Fletcher, who will turn 60 around the time of the Dallas walk, prefer to train alone while others such as Steinmetz typically train with teammates.
For some, the physical challenge is more daunting than fundraising but for others, it is the opposite.
Sara Head, a 30-year-old kindergarten teacher who lives in Keller, has wanted to participate for several years in support of an aunt who is a breast cancer survivor. But it was the fundraising that held her back.
So instead, she attended the Dallas walk several times as a “walker stalker,” the contingent of family, friends and supporters who cheer on walkers along the route.
“I was a college athlete so I knew I could get my body into shape,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure how I would raise the money.”
But after watching a childhood friend in the walk last year, she resolved do it and signed up the day after the 2015 walk.
“I’m so excited,” Head says. “I’ve heard so many stories of how it changes your life and helps you live each day more purposefully.”
Like many others, Head is raising money through her many friends and followers on social media.
“Some people hold garage sales or do bake sales to help raise money,” says Tracey LaFara, 47, a Keller area mother and teacher who has raised $10,000 during her four years of walking the 3-Day. (This will be her fourth year.) “Some hairdressers will do haircuts and donate all the money to Komen.”
Raising money is part of the routine for her and other members of team Pink Soles in Motion, which is consistently a top fundraiser for Komen.
Repeat walkers, especially those who have walked for many years, have all raised thousands of dollars for the organization. Steinmetz must raise $6,900 this year alone to participate but is committed to raising $7,500.
Raising money is part of the routine for her and other members of team Pink Soles in Motion, which is consistently a top fundraiser for Komen. In 2015, the 77 walkers raised $135,000. The team has also formed its own official non-profit to help breast cancer patients with services beyond those provided by the Komen organization.
What keeps her going is seeing appreciation of all the people, especially the children, who line the route passing out photos of lost loved ones and holding handmade signs that read “I miss my mommy.”
“I am fortunate to be an almost nine-year survivor,” Steinmetz says. “The 3-Day is habit-forming and I plan to keep doing it as long as I can.”