A breast cancer diagnosis can be a solitary thing.

Certainly people want to help. They don’t want you to go it alone. They want to feed you, drive you to appointments, hold your hand, try to make you laugh.

But at its very root, it’s you and the cancer, bound together 24/7. The fear and doubt, the sense of your own mortality hitting you in the face — that is difficult to share. It is more often internalized, taking up a large space in your heart and mind.

But since my diagnosis in 2007, I have found myself walking with a community that supports and inspires me, makes me laugh and makes me cry. I have found that those who walk with me enrich my life and increase my sense of hope, both for myself and for every other breast cancer patient and survivor.

In September 2008, I walked with my medical oncologist, Dr. Andrew Arnold, the head of clinical trials at Hamilton’s Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC). As we walked five kilometres along the rail trail in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, Dr. Arnold taught me about the importance of clinical trials and research.

He told me about the need to conduct research to find out if new treatments are effective for a particular cancer. Once research is completed, the findings are published and may become the new standard of treatment for that cancer. He said it’s important that people participate in clinical trials because all the treatments being used now have been developed through such participation.

It wasn’t just the two of us strolling through the trees. It was the first BRIGHT RUN and we were surrounded by 1,000 other people who were on a mission — to raise money for breast cancer research in Hamilton, at our cancer centre. That first event — organized by cancer centre medical professionals at the urging of patients — raised $250,000.

In September 2009, I walked with my family. In their late 70s, my Mom and Dad took up the challenge. My four-month-old granddaughter joined us. Four generations of my family walked as my staunch supporters. And I was honoured to address BRIGHT RUN participants before more than 1,000 of us set off to walk together.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Canada. More than 23,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and it will kill 5,000. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Men also get breast cancer; they account for about one per cent of breast cancer cases. This year in Canada, an estimated 200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and it will kill about 60.

The September 2010 BRIGHT RUN found me walking with more than 30 work friends and colleagues from across Hamilton and Niagara. We called ourselves McMillan’s Madcaps. It was a strong message to me about team support beyond the office doors.

More than 80 teams participate in the BRIGHT RUN every year. So far, the Madcaps have raised more than $120,000 and I’m very proud that we have been able to contribute to breast cancer research in our own community. As a patient, raising money for research is a wonderful way for me to show my gratitude to the staff at the JCC.

Come September 2011, I was walking with Dr. Mark Levine, who holds the Buffett Taylor Chair in Breast Cancer Research. Dr. Levine is one of the founding members of the BRIGHT RUN executive. This is a man with the self-confidence to bring the pink from head to toe; he absolutely walks the walk!

The JCC successfully applies for research funding from organizations such as the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. But Dr. Levine told me the research environment is intensely competitive and funding must be spread across the country, so there can be gaps. The BRIGHT RUN, he pointed out, is a critical additional source of funds to support exciting projects at the JCC, channelling local money to support local research and better the lives of patients and their families and friends.

September 2012 was different. I had joined the Executive Committee and I was going full throttle as a volunteer. So I walked with fellow volunteers and members of the executive committee the day before so I could help on event day. Some of us walked by ourselves, others in pairs … but never alone. We did our five kilometres between set up duties. After almost 10 months of planning, the energy and excitement was at a feverish level.

Our BRIGHT community has raised $1.6 million so far and continues going strong.

The BRIGHT RUN is on Sept. 7 this year and I will again be there, walking to raise money for local breast cancer research. Who will be walking with me in 2013? Your sister? Your friend? Maybe it will be you.

Published in the Hamilton Spectator: http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/3912248-breast-cancer-is-individual-but-doesn-t-need-to-be-solitary/