Breast Cancer Alliance holds ninth annual walk on Greenwich Avenue

This weekend, on Sunday, April 27, the Breast Cancer Alliance (BCA) will be taking over Greenwich Avenue for its annual Walk for Hope. The fund-raising event is a commemorative walk to honor and remember loved ones who have battled breast cancer.

Last year, hundreds gathered in the rain for the walk, which raised more than $80,000 for BCA research and grant funding. In its most successful year to date, the walk awarded seven research grants, three breast surgery fellowships and 12 education outreach grants to fund projects at leading cancer research institutions. The BCA has high hopes for this year’s event, and looks to surpass last year’s success.

“We’re hoping to meet if not exceed last year’s goal. … Things are looking good. There’s a nice response and the closer it gets to the event, people are a bit more inclined to sign up,” said Yonni Wattenmaker, BCA executive director.

According to Ms. Wattenmaker, roughly 300 people signed up for last year’s walk. The BCA aims to have an even higher participation rate this year. With more than 200 early sign-ups, the BCA envisions having up to 500 participants come Sunday. Walkers have the option of joining solo or as a team, either in advance or on the day of the event. There will be a number of corporate teams attending the event, including JP Morgan. Greenwich resident Caroline Brecker, who is a managing director at JP Morgan and co-chair of the Walk for Hope, calls the event a genuine “feel good morning” that’s very bonding for her team.

“There are a lot of walks on this topic, but it’s a testament to how wonderful this walk is that it was raining horizontally last year, and we still had a great turnout,” said Ms. Brecker. “For many people and frankly for our office, there are a number of people affected with breast cancer, and it’s an opportunity for them to share with their family and friends. … It’s very bonding for us as a team.”

The one-mile walk begins and ends at Richards of Greenwich. Together, attendees will walk up Mason Street, returning via Greenwich Avenue. In Ms. Brecker’s words, it’s certainly not a long walk, but mainly an awareness and community building event.

Walk aside, there appears to be plenty in store for participants. Some of this year’s perks include a DJ spinning tunes, a Tesla for viewing, a warm-up by Equinox, a complimentary breakfast, and a wellness fair featuring 11 different companies. This year’s platinum sponsor is Omnicom.

“There’s a lot of fun browsing and learning to be done while eating, both before and after the walk,” said Ms. Wattenmaker.

The BCA team is particularly enthusiastic about the wellness fair, which marks a significant expansion from last year’s event. The vendors cover a variety of areas in healthy living, from fitness to nutrition and beauty. Local businesses involved include Becker Salon, Be Shri Yoga, Green and Tonic, and more.

“It [the fair] is something I think is a community-building exercise, with a lot of local vendors. As people turn their attention to the environment and outside influences for breast cancer, they’re really thinking about healthy living,” said Ms. Brecker.

In addition to Ms. Wattenmaker and Ms. Brecker, this year’s Walk for Hope is co-chaired by Nicole Ewing and Julie Genovese. Serving as grand marshal is Trisha Goddard of local syndicated talk show Trisha Goddard. Ms. Goddard is a talk show host, author and breast cancer survivor.

“She has an incredible story. She’s a very strong, powerful, creative and forceful woman with a great career, who is a mother, wife and survivor. … Her message will be short and important. We want people to feel like they can make a difference in coming to walk that day, and I think she’ll be helpful in driving that message home,” said Ms. Wattenmaker.

Since the BCA’s inception in 1996, it has awarded more than $19 million in grants to support its mission of improving survival rates and quality of life for those with breast cancer. It seeks to fund research that will lead to better prevention, early detection, treatment, and eventually, a cure.

Much has changed in the field of breast cancer research over the past two decades. According to Ms. Wattenmaker, one of the most significant developments is that research has revealed that there is no one type of breast cancer, and thus, no one cure-all panacea. With greater funding and research, the hope is that the approaches can become narrower, so that specialists can focus on one piece at time.

“The more people there are populating the field, they can drill down to different areas and highlight different things, and hopefully come up with a cure for one particular kind … one step at a time. That’s been the greatest advance over time,” said Ms. Wattenmaker. “Not to mention the mortality rate; more and more women and men are surviving breast cancer and living long and meaningful lives after the diagnosis. Both of these things are super important, and we’re happy to be playing a role in that.”

The Greenwich-based organization, first created by a group of six friends, has expanded immensely over the years. It has increased its presence in Fairfield County and beyond, with hundreds of volunteers hailing from all over the tri-state area. Ms. Wattenmaker said the BCA is committed to building and growing its presence across the nation.

“The BCA is not just a Greenwich organization anymore. So much of the Greenwich community is involved, but we’re now seeing people from Westchester, Westport, we even have participation in Manhattan,” Ms. Wattenmaker said. “We want to let people know the impact we’re making not only in their communities but throughout the East Coast and eventually the country. We’re hoping to continue to grow our support base and increase our fund-raising potential to increase the impact and hopefully find a cure.”

“We have more people involved than we ever did before; it’s been great in spreading awareness. In many ways, the BCA has stayed the same, in terms of having an incredible group of women who do a lot with not much in terms of resources. Yonni is a terrific executive director, the type of events they put on, and the bang for its buck is unbelievable,” added Ms. Brecker.

On Sunday, the BCA hopes to see volunteers of all ages and stripes, from families to teams and office groups. The walk begins at 10:30 a.m., rain or shine, with check-in, the wellness fair, and a complimentary breakfast. After the walk, participants and visitors are invited to stay and mingle, to enjoy the wellness fair and free refreshments. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, and may be purchased the day-of or in advance at bca.donorpages.com/WalkforHope2014/. Children under the age of 7 and dogs attend free.

“It used to be that breast cancer was a death sentence, and it certainly doesn’t have to be like that anymore,” said Ms. Wattenmaker.

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