Two major cancer-awareness events Sunday raised more than $1.5 million with the help of cancer survivors and their friends and families.
The 16th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk drew more than 1,500 participants despite cold and wet weather in Portland, while cyclists in the fourth annual Dempsey Challenge rode as many as 100 miles to raise funds for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
“With what I’ve been through, what’s a little rain?” said Making Strides participant Ann Morton, a six-year cancer survivor from Bryant Pond. “I enjoy every day and try to make the most of it. I have a very positive attitude. My only bad days have been chemo days.”
On the back of her pink shirt, Morton wore names of friends who have been afflicted with or died of breast cancer. She walked in tribute to them and to herself, she said. Morton also wanted to honor the cancer caregivers and oncologists who helped her through her illness.
“We owe so much to our caregivers. It takes a special person to do what they do every day,” Morton said. The names of her oncologists were also listed on her shirt.
Morton joined a sea of pink along Congress Street. There were pink glitter tiaras, feather boas and pompoms, as well as the bright-pink hair of Brett Rouleau of Unity College. He was walking in honor of his two grandmothers, who both have been affected by breast cancer.
Statistics indicate that about one in eight U.S. women, around 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In Maine, more than 1,100 women are diagnosed each year and about 194 die annually from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The daunting statistics drew Girl Scout Troop 2135 of Limerick to Sunday’s event. The troop led cheers and gave out pink handmade keychains to the walkers.
“Once we learned about the statistics, we wanted to do something about it to raise awareness and education,” said assistant troop leader Erin Lamontagne.
The troop also donates to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to help pay for research.
“We want to help so that not one of us will succumb to breast cancer,” Lamontagne said.
Rachel Desmarais of Saco, a six-year breast cancer survivor, walked with her husband and two friends in honor of her sister, Louise Sutton, who died of breast cancer in April. The team wore homemade pink hats that featured a photo of Louise.
“The rain’s keeping some people away, but we’re here and we’re hoping to raise awareness,” Desmarais said. “Louise would be proud we’re here. It’s my fifth year walking.”
Making Strides also held walks Sunday in Brunswick, Kittery and Damariscotta.
Meanwhile, more than 1,400 riders had registered for Sunday’s Dempsey Challenge, which features various routes ranging from 10- to 100-mile rides. Thousands more participated in walking and running events on Saturday.
Actor Patrick Dempsey of “Grey’s Anatomy,” who was born in Lewiston and grew up in Turner and Buckfield, created the weekend of running, walking and cycling events following the experience of his 77-year-old mother’s battle with ovarian cancer.
The Dempsey Challenge broke some records, raising more than $1 million for the first time and drawing more than 4,270 total participants over the weekend, the largest number in its four-year history. The number of participants beat the previous record of 4,177 set in 2010.
The event raises funds for the Dempsey Center, which offers free services to people affected by cancer.
“I learned a lot during my mother’s illness,” Dempsey said in a prepared statement. “I found out how important it is to have access to good, reliable resources to help the patient, family members and caretakers. After this experience, I knew that I wanted to make a difference, to give back to the community that helped my mom through her cancer journey.”
The Dempsey Challenge also featured 38 cyclists who rode from Canada as part of The Peloton Project, a documentary film that follows the lives of riders participating in the Cancervive Peloton Project. The group started Oct. 2 and biked 2,500 miles from Calgary, arriving Friday in Lewiston in time to participate in the Dempsey Challenge weekend. Dempsey is the executive producer of the documentary.
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: