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A Long Haul for Early Detection of Breast Cancer


The minute she saw the newspaper ad in January, Carolyn Suckow was committed. It was a full-page ad with this headline: "There are 1 million women in America with undetected breast cancer. I'd walk three days from Santa Barbara to Malibu even if it were only one."

The ad asked women to sign up for the first Avon 3-Day walk to raise funds for breast-cancer education. Not only would participants walk a 60-mile trek from Santa Barbara to Malibu, each would also be required to raise a minimum of $1,700 to be spent on early breast-cancer detection education programs.

"I knew immediately I wanted to do it," said Suckow, 37, of Hermosa Beach. She was just getting her strength back after a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. "I thought, 'This is the challenge I need, to show it hasn't beat me.' "

Suckow, assistant director of public affairs and marketing for USC's School of Engineering, has her own personal history.

"My grandmother and her two sisters died of breast cancer, and my aunt, 80, is a four-year survivor," she said.

Suckow had her lumpectomy a week after her first wedding anniversary.

"Breast cancer robbed me and my husband Stephen of a year of biking, hiking and rock climbing," she said. "It's so important we do what we can to get early detection and treatment to women."

And even though she knew a walk of 20 miles a day would be grueling, she signed up immediately. On Friday, she will join about 2,400 other women and a sprinkling of men who will strike out from Santa Barbara for a 60-mile walk--they'll sleep in tents--down the coast. Most have been in training for months, sometimes having started with short walks that totaled only a mile a week.

"I think it will be a lot of fun," Suckow said. "There will be so much adrenaline out there and a chance to meet a lot of new people. Everybody has a sense of belonging to each other."

Emphasizing that the walk is not a race, Avon has provided a training schedule with walking tips, coaching and rigorous organized walking practices.

Dana Barraclough of Huntington Beach is one of the participants who volunteered to lead training walks during the last few months. She, too, saw the newspaper ad.

"The walk looked intimidating, especially the fund-raising part," said Barraclough, 53, a paralegal at a Fountain Valley car dealership. "But I just knew immediately it was something that interested me."

Although she has run both the Los Angeles and Huntington Beach marathons, she knew the walk would be different.

"In a marathon you use up all your energy in one run, go eat and collapse. You don't have to do anything much the next day. But with the walk, we have to get our bodies in shape to go a slower pace and get up the next day after sleeping in a tent and do it again. Twice."

And she discovered another difference. "People in the marathon seemed to be more athletic. In this case, most of the walkers are women, although we have a few men. A lot of these walkers are confirmed couch potatoes who just decided to get up and do it because they believed in the cause. Many are breast-cancer survivors."

There is general agreement among people working on the project that this event has a passion that sets it apart, even in the "make a difference" world of health running events. And among participants, whether athletic or not, the special passion of personal suffering or loss is an underlying theme. For example:

* Candy Wax, 51, a travel agent, was recruited by her daughter, Lisa Nudell.

"She thought it would be wonderful for us to walk in honor of my own mother, who died of breast cancer," Wax said. "Two weeks after we signed up, Lisa found out she was pregnant, but I was committed then and knew I had no way out."

Wax, who works out rigorously, has been training with her cousin Ronnie Weinstock.

"We have a regular walking group," she said. "Last week we did 23.1 miles, and I was tired. Listen, it's not easy. But everybody has the same purpose, which makes you feel very, very good."

* Glenda Jacobs, 42, is a seven-year cancer survivor, who found a lump in her breast during a self-examination.

"I honestly believe awareness is the key to survival. And as an African American woman, I want to inform all women of all races to start doing breast self-exams," she said.

Jacobs, who works for the city of Santa Monica, has walked the L.A. marathon twice and has been practicing harder for this, walking with a group of four.

"What I worry about is not being able to get out of that tent the second day," she mused. "After about 10 miles, muscles start to tighten."

Avon bills the first-time walk as a "revolutionary new fund-raising event," said Joanne Mazurki, director of global cause-related marketing at Avon and founder of the event. "We hope it will become a model for events around the country."

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