In Houlton, small groups wage big fight against breast cancer

by Jen Lynds

I wish that I knew someone whose life has not somehow been impacted by breast cancer.
Especially in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there seems to be more discussion about the disease and the impact it has had on sufferers and the people who love them.
Most everyone has known someone who has been diagnosed with the disease or died as a result of it. There is always someone wearing a pink ribbon, driving a car with a Maine breast cancer license plate, or sporting a pink piece of clothing purchased to raise money for a related charity.
Approximately two decades have passed, but I can still see my grandmother picking up the telephone. Out of the blue, breast cancer was calling.
Her younger sister had just been diagnosed. She had otherwise been a healthy woman and always donated money to breast cancer charities.
But it did not matter what she gave. Breast cancer was there to take.
She endured chemotherapy, radiation and surgery in order to beat the disease. Our family rejoiced, and a fragile optimism returned.
We could not sustain it.
The next diagnosis was given to my grandmother’s niece, her brother’s daughter. She was 29 and had just learned that she was going to be a mother. She would not live past her daughter’s fifth birthday.
Jessica Downie Fiorino graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree in education and became a history teacher. She did not get a chance to do that for very long. Breast cancer robbed the woman who loved to teach her students about the past from having a future.
A short time later, on a cold winter evening, my family crowded into my grandparents’ living room. The next day, my grandmother would find out if a lump discovered during an examination was malignant or benign. I sat on her stairs that evening and indulged in magical thinking, telling myself that maybe, if we just hoped and prayed and loved her enough that night, we would be rewarded in the morning.
I was wrong.
We rallied around her as she took the steps necessary to rid her body of the disease. As she prepared to mark her second year as a survivor, my aunt became a sufferer.
Both my grandmother and aunt live in the Houlton area, and each year, my aunt is recognized as a survivor before she takes part in the Bridge To Hope breast cancer awareness walk in Houlton. Seven years ago, with her husband’s two aunts suffering from breast cancer, Cathy Forest of Oakfield launched the fundraising walk. That first year, approximately 50 people took part.
When Forest woke up on Oct. 6, her stomach sank when she saw the threatening clouds and sporadic drizzle. While participation in the walk has grown each year, she wasn’t sure if people would want to take part on such a dreary day.
At the starting line, more than 200 residents were lacing up their sneakers. It was the most successful turnout since the walk began.
Proceeds raised from teams of walkers who gather pledges go to help those suffering from all types of cancer, not just breast cancer. Participants brought in $9,560 this year, bringing the total raised over the past seven years to more than $28,000.
All of the money stays in the community and 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.
Click on this link on Facebook or search the site for Bridge To Hope Breast Cancer Awareness to find out more.
Part of the money raised from this year’s walk evolved from the labor of Pam and Amy Hocking of Houlton, a talented mother and daughter team who head up Bosom Buddy Bags and Beads.
The handmade quilted purses and tote bags sport pink ribbons on their inner pockets. A pink ribbon is also featured on the handmade jewelry. They sell their wares at craft fairs and other venues or to shoppers who contact them. All of the proceeds from the sale of those goods and a handmade quilt that they raffle off each year goes to the Bridge To Hope Breast Cancer Awareness Walk. The money raised through the sale of the jewelry and bags on Oct. 6 brought in more than $3,400.
Pam Hocking is also a breast cancer survivor. She and her daughter started their venture not only to garner money for treatment and research, but also to raise awareness about the number of local men and women battling the disease. The organization is just a few years old, and the Hockings created a Facebook page three months ago. Click on the link to take you to Bosom Buddy Bags and Beads.
As October comes to a close, so will breast cancer awareness month.
It is disheartening at times to realize that one could be the richest person in the world, but currency is useless when it comes to buying time. But little organizations such as Bridge To Hope and Bosom Buddy Bags and Beads, along with numerous other such groups across The County, boost our spirits through their selfless actions.
Such organizations and the people behind them are reminders that while crops and forests and businesses bring assets to Aroostook County, it is the people here that really make this region rich.