HOULTON, Maine — When Cathy Forest of Oakfield awoke to gloomy skies and soggy leaves on Saturday morning, her heart sank.
The Bridge To Hope breast cancer awareness walk, which she first organized seven years ago, was set to start in a few hours. She wondered what sort of turnout she would see under the circumstances.
But “cancer doesn’t care if its raining,” she acknowledged Saturday, so she resolved to press on with her plans.
And when she got to the starting line, she saw that more than 200 other people had done the same thing.
In what Forest called the most successful turnout since the walk began, more than 200 residents took part in the short walk through downtown Houlton. Participants formed fundraising teams and joined other cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates to raise both money and awareness for the disease.
When Forest first came up with the idea for the walk, she mobilized her daughters and a few friends to help her. Now, she has a team of organizers who donate their time each year.
“I needed something to do that I thought would be worthwhile, so I started the walk,” she said, adding that her husband’s two aunts were battling the disease at the time. “Not counting what we have raised today, this walk has brought in more than $18,000 to help people diagnosed with any type of cancer. It is not just breast cancer.”
All of the money raised stays in the community, Forest said Saturday. The money helps cancer sufferers and their families offset expenses related to treatment. Funds raised have helped purchase gas and grocery cards, restaurant gift certificates and more.
Female and male cancer survivors at the walk were recognized with pink survivor sashes. They were teachers, dentists, stay-at-home mothers and grandmothers, all flanked by supporters decked out in pink, including a dog sporting a pink bandana. Organizers posted pumpkins that had been painted pink all along the walk route.
The top two fundraising teams raised a combined total of more than $1,300 and were both from Houlton health care facilities. A raffle attached to the walk also brought in $1,722.
Forrest said Saturday that one of the best parts of the walk is seeing the cancer survivors come back year after year, and also seeing all of the teams who walk in honor of someone.
“There are certain people who come back year after year,” she said. “It’s awesome to see that.”
Many people also walk in memory of someone they have lost to the disease.
In downtown Houlton, Mary Fitzgerald and her sister, Leanne Sanderson, both of Connecticut, were shocked at the long line of walkers passing through. The sisters were in the area visiting family and had no idea the event was taking place.
“It really says something about this community that you see that many people out marching even when its rainy like this,” said Sanderson. “We had actually just purchased some breast cancer awareness items from a craft vendor when all of the walkers came through. I was really impressed with the number of men and children who were taking part.”
Tallying up the fundraising pledges Saturday, Forrest said she was not surprised at the huge show of support.
“The people who are struggling with cancer are going through far worse than a little bit of rough weather,” she said. “Those of us who do this do so because it comes from our heart. We have done this walk in the pouring rain before. We’d have done it in a blizzard.”