Bonny Lynn Hamilton

STONEY CREEK – Bonny-Lynn Hamilton was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer when she launched a major fundraising effort.

She designed strikingly dramatic T-shirts in black and hot pink. Her design included a pink flamingo, known for its longevity, and a running shoe to stomp out cancer. She created one design for breast cancer survivors and another for co-survivors, those who have been through the breast cancer experience with a loved one or friend.

Then Hamilton, a 52-year-old payroll administrator, began peddling those T-shirts to friends and family and at her workplace, at the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC) and anywhere else she could find a buyer.

Hamilton will donate the proceeds of her T-shirt sales to the second annual BRIGHT RUN/Walk for Breast Cancer Research, which takes place Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Dundas Valley Conservation Area on Governors Road in Dundas.

“They did so much for me at the Juravinski Cancer Centre,” she said. “I really felt I needed to do something to help them and other women with breast cancer.”

Dr. Mark Levine, chair of the oncology department at JCC and an instigator of the BRIGHT RUN/Walk, says he’s learned that participating in fundraising events is a highly sensitive issue for breast cancer survivors. “It’s almost part of the road to recovery for many patients,” Levine said of the range of fundraising walks, runs and multi-day events that contribute to breast cancer research funding. “Patients feel very proud that they have been able to raise funds for this disease.”

Last year’s inaugural BRIGHT event was a runaway success. Organizers had hoped for 500 participants, but 1,002 showed up, and they raised $258,000 for breast cancer research at JCC.

“It was an incredible high,” Levine said of the event. “There was a lot of hugging, a lot of crying – it was just wonderful.

BRIGHT stand for Breast Cancer Research In Greater Hamilton Today, and Levine believes it’s important for JCC breast cancer patients and their families to have a fundraising event that is uniquely local and accessible to everybody regardless of how much money they can raise. This year, organizers are hoping for 2,000 participants and $500,000 for the centre.

Hamilton will participate in the BRIGHT event for the first time this year. She was diagnosed with a relatively uncommon, aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer last September, after noticing changes in her breast in August. JCC doctors treated her with chemotherapy first, to reduce the size of her tumours and to block the spread of the cancer. By the end of September, Hamilton had made it through the first of eight chemotherapy treatments.

It was really hard, but you just do it,” she said. “Chemo takes a lot out of you mentally as well as physically. You learn as you go, and then out comes this inner strength you never knew you had and you keep going.”

Hamilton’s cancer responded very well to chemo; by the time she had a double mastectomy in early February, the tumour in her breast had shrunk by about two-thirds and the cancer had disappeared completely from several previously involved lymph nodes. And she felt well enough after completing her chemo to get away from it all on two back-to-back Caribbean cruises with her longtime partner Danny Maddick, whom she says provided invaluable moral and physical support throughout her cancer treatment.

“Danny was always there, trying to get me to eat or drink something, letting me cry when I needed to and telling me it was OK,” Hamilton said. “We have a group a friends, perhaps extended family is a better word, who helped us as well. They had a meeting and made up a schedule of who would cook for us and when, who was off work to take me to chemo and if they weren’t available, their kids did it.”

As she started five weeks of daily radiation in April, Hamilton decided she needed to give something back. Within a week of receiving the T-shirts, Hamilton had raised $1,000 for the BRIGHT RUN. She has since ordered her second batch of T-shirts. And she will lead her team of family and friends, Bonny’s Posse, along the conservation area trail on run day.

“I am very excited about my the BRIGHT RUN/Walk and I look forward to seeing a sea of black and bright pink T-shirts hitting the trails”, Hamilton said. “People need to remember ‘cancer’ is just a word. And if you find yourself sitting in a chemo chair, look to your left or right, smile at the person next to you and say ‘hello.’ You just made their day a little easier.”