The Bridge to Hope Cancer Walk was another smashing success, despite the rainy Saturday morning. This year's walk raised a record-breaking $22,300 for families impacted by cancer. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Perhaps it was a good thing that Saturday morning’s 16th annual Bridge to Hope Cancer Walk in Houlton featured a steady, often heavy rain.

That way tears could easily be hidden amongst the nearly 200 people who gathered to participate in this year’s event — tears of sadness for those grieving and tears of joy because the event soared to a new fundraising record.

“Today, we collected $22,300 (for the Bridge to Hope),” said Dee Butler Henderson, one of the event organizers. “I’m speechless. We have had so many people from outside of our area that have been supporting us all year long.”

Houlton Regional Hospital also dropped some remarkable news at the beginning of the walk when CEO Shawn Anderson announced that, along with the help of the Health Services Foundation, a new 3D mammography unit would be added to the hospital in the near future.

Shawn Anderson, CEO at Houlton Regional Hospital, speaks to those gathered Saturday morning for the annual Bridge To Hope Cancer Walk in downtown Houlton. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Anderson said early detection and diagnosis is one of the most critical steps in a cancer diagnosis.

“Many times, the earliest detection occurs in a radiology department,” he said.

He added that over the past year, HRH was able to invest in the new digital diagnostic equipment for the radiology department. That equipment includes two new diagnostic and x-ray rooms, a new MRI, new ultrasound unit and new mobile x-ray unit.

“In early December, Houlton Regional Hospital will be offering, for the first time in this area, 3D mammography,” he said. “The technology has been a long time coming. It is the gold standard [for detection] and will be yours very soon.”

The mission of Bridge to Hope is simple. The group tries to help people in southern Aroostook County with financial burdens as they battle cancer. The organization has helped hundreds of families over the past 16 years, with such kind gestures as gasoline gift cards for those traveling to chemotherapy appointments or hotel accommodations for those seeking treatments or surgical procedures in places such as Portland or Boston.

By keeping funds local, the group has been able to help individuals undergoing cancer treatments with various expenses as well as providing them meal gift cards, gift baskets and even donations of turkeys during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sometimes, it is nothing more than a simple bouquet of flowers to someone who may be having a rough time dealing with a cancer diagnosis or treatments. The group also provides a scholarship to graduating seniors who have been impacted by cancer.

Members of the Hodgdon girls soccer team presented a check in the amount of $800 to the Bridge to Hope Cancer Walk Saturday. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Anderson lauded the Bridge to Hope group for their continued efforts to help those battling cancer.

“To everyone associated with Bridge to Hope, you are true heroes,” Anderson said. “Your selfless work is truly inspirational.”

Raising funds for families who are battling cancer has been no small feat for the people connected with Bridge to Hope.

Last year, the group set a goal of $15,000 for its “Cruisin’ for Cancer” event, which featured a motorcade instead of the traditional walk because of COVID-19. That event collected $16,050 at the day of the event, and close to $20,000 once all of the additional donations were counted. At the time it was the highest amount ever collected.

In 2019, the event drew 225 walkers to the Gentle Memorial Building and helped raise $12,306 for the Bridge to Hope group.

This year, a ride was organized by Toni Hetherington in September, with funds from that drive donated to the group.

Members of the Houlton boys and girls soccer team present a check in the amount of $1,355 to the Bridge To Hope Cancer group as part of a fundraising effort the two squads conducted. Credit: Courtesy of Courtney Barton

Additionally, the boys and girls soccer teams from both Houlton and Hodgdon high schools collected donations for Bridge to Hope. The Hodgdon group presented a check in the amount of $850, while Houlton presented $1,355.

“I don’t know if I will live to see it, but my mission is to be able to dissolve Bridge to Hope,” said Kim Folsom. “That means that we have found a cure for cancer.”