4,000-Strong Walk for a Cancer Cure

Ann Eagan is an inspirational co-chair for Saturday’s Climb to Conquer Cancer, but she didn’t do it alone.

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nSpecial to the Daily Sun
Sunday, August 17, 2008

The American Cancer Society reminds us in its ads that cancer touches everyone.

Even me. We all saw the commercial. A woman trudges uphill to the narration, “I can do this, I can do this …”

I’d seen the ad 50 times and wondered — something was familiar about her.

The woman is Ann Eagan. She was also co-chair for Saturday’s 20th anniversary Climb to Conquer Cancer, a cancer survivor and — come to find out — an old college friend.

“Until 2007, I climbed simply for friends, family and co-workers,” Eagan said. “Then, I was diagnosed with intravascular lymphoma.”

She explained that the rare, aggressive cancer is dubbed the “Great Impostor” for its difficult diagnosis and, too often, confirmation only by autopsy.

Eagan received her final chemotherapy treatment only days before last year’s climb. But she walked the first mile, then husband Tony and two friends pushed her wheelchair up the balance of Snowbowl Road.

Despite her struggle, Eagan emerged last year as the climb’s highest individual fundraiser.

RAISING MORE THAN $230,000

American Cancer Society officials said they expected to raise more than $230,000 from Saturday’s event.

“This event is planned and logistically run by volunteers.” said Debbie Cook, district executive director for the Great West Division of the ACS.

In fact, 3 million volunteers nationwide set Cancer Society priorities and carry out their mission.

Flagstaff’s Climb succeeds through individual participation. This year, Unisource Energy’s team collected nearly $10,500 for top honors, while Eric Yellen topped out at over $3,000 for most individual funds raised.

The Climb physically represents the often heroic measures needed to confront cancer. Still, a positive vibe throbbed Saturday as the maxed-out mountain swarmed with 4,000 walkers. An “all in this together” feeling prevailed as groups, like ADOT’s Road Warriors, took photos before they turned uphill. United Flagstaff Firefighters waited with a gurney to transport a cancer patient who couldn’t walk, but wanted to go the 7-mile route.

Babies in backpacks and perky seniors with hiking sticks joined in the parade. A group of women en route spontaneously sang, “Climb every mountain…” Farther on, a couple humbly gathered trash. Smokey Bear waved from the bed of a Forest Service truck, and rock music from radio station vans cheered walkers at some of the nine aid stations.

A ‘NERDY’ GIRL PAYS TRIBUTE

Donna Weistrop and her friend, Dave Shaffer, walked as retired astronomers in memory of her mother, Charlotte, and grandmother, Deborah.

“My mom always supported me in my education, long before it was cool for girls to be nerdy,” Weistrop said.

Althea Lomahaifewa trod next to a banner for Susie. Drawn with the Hopi Snake and Lizard Clan symbols, it also listed the names of their 41-strong group.

“We found out about the Climb when Susie was diagnosed. We planned to do it together, but she didn’t survive. I told her we’d do it for her,” said Lomahaifewa.

Andy Hernandez is a three-time stomach and liver cancer survivor. He and wife, Pauline, walked for Winslow.

“This is the first time I’ve been healthy enough to walk. We’re carrying all our friends with us,” said Andy, pointing to the 28 survivors’ names on the front of his maroon shirt and the 29 who’d lost the battle on the back.

Said Pauline: “It’s been 10 years, but we’re fighting every step of the way.”

DOWN MEMORY LANE

Memory Lane waited at Mile Five. Picket signs — with photos of dear ones dead or honored for their fight — stood in a line. Cancer wore a human face.

Tom Kamada, a Killip Krusader, picked up his sign with Mom pictured in a cowboy hat and “one tough ol’ bird” printed below. Loved ones in hand, everyone finished the Climb to Conquer Cancer together.

The journey snaked around the last bend, where music blared and cheerleaders shook pom-poms in greeting. A meal, furnished by Outback Steakhouse, wafted on the breeze.

Ann Eagan, no longer in a wheelchair this year, stood under a balloon rainbow, welcoming the stream of smiling faces.

I recalled the commercial in which she starred. After falling on the road, a hand reaches down to help her up. Then, the message changes from, “I can do this,” to, “WE can do this.” It continues, “I reached the top of my mountain.”

It was clear Saturday that it took everyone on that mountain to, as the ad concludes, “Help others to reach the top of theirs.”

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