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1,100 Loop the Valley in Fight on Breast Cancer

Participants in the 39-mile walk, which ends today, make the fund-raiser personal.

September 07, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Even though Sara Sartain's chiropractor told her it was a bad idea, there she was Saturday pounding the pavement for miles despite a bad disc in her back.

"This is really important to me," said the 62-year-old Sun Valley Avon sales manager, whose pain was eased with the help of aspirin and walking sticks. "I wouldn't miss it."

Sartain, among the 1,100 women and a handful of men participating in this weekend's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, lost two of her employees in the last year to the disease. That's why, she said, more money must be raised to find a cure.

The walk-a-thon kicked off early Saturday at Universal City and ends today after a 39-mile loop through the San Fernando Valley. Some walkers showed up in funny hats and tie-dyes.

A few carried pink balloons. Meandering past Griffith Park and coursing through leafy neighborhoods, many spoke of the ache of losing loved ones to the disease.

Every year, breast cancer strikes more than 200,000 women and 1,000 men across the country, according to the National Cancer Institute. This year, it is expected to claim more than 40,000 lives.

The statistics don't surprise Derrinda Gonzales, 40, and her friend, Kristen Leavitt, 35. Pinned to their T-shirts were a dozen or so pink cloth hearts, each inscribed with the name of someone they knew who had breast cancer.

"These are the reasons we're doing this," said Gonzales, pointing out the names of a grandmother, a sister-in-law and the mother of a friend.

As the morning cool dissipated into afternoon heat, volunteers cheered on the passing masses.

Women in straw hats handed out granola bars. A man spritzed water onto sweaty faces. Portable stereos boomed with inspirational melodies such as the title track to "Rocky."

Some walkers formed their own pep squad. Jan Bailey, 47, a Ventura administrator, clapped and sang with five friends as they paced briskly through Burbank, frequently lifting their arms to do "the wave."

The six women, including cancer survivor Mary Karrh, 52, a Santa Paula accountant, proudly noted they had collected $24,000 in donations.

Over the last decade, the Avon Foundation has raised $250 million in 50 countries from events such as weekend walks and the sale of merchandise such as pink-ribbon pins, organizers said. Proceeds are donated to treatment, research and education efforts around the world.

The foundation today will announce a $1-million gift to the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, which will form a partnership with the Center for Healthy Aging, also in Santa Monica, to target the needs of older women.

"It's a group that's under-treated and underserved," said Dr. Armando Guiliano, director of the institute's Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Breast Center, expressing gratitude for the gift that also will fund research.

After striding 13 miles, Dana Parker of Westchester kicked off her shoes and rubbed her feet.

"I walk eight hours a day for my business, but it's nothing like this," she said. "It's not just physical. It's also emotional.... My mom's a survivor. She's alive today because of people before who have raised money for research."

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