Barbara Alvarez Martin, MPH, director of research development for the Cancer Prevention and Control program at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, beat breast cancer in her early forties. So did her mother, Carole Ann, almost 3 decades ago. The two women now honor their fight – and those who are still fighting – with what has now become a family tradition: raising funds and walking a marathon-and-a-half at the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer.
On July 11 and 12, 2015, Barbara joined Carole Ann and friends in her hometown of San Francisco for their fourth Avon 39 walk together. To date, their “Golden Bare Boobs” team has raised over $70,000 for the cause. This year, however, would prove to be extra special. Barbara’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Lanie, was selected to be a member of the Avon Youth Crew, which provides support to participants throughout the two-day journey. For the first time, all three generations of women would be there to walk, to give back and to celebrate together.
At an event that hosted over 2,000 people, the love could be felt all around. Some participants trekking the 39 miles were bald. A few were even walking in between chemotherapy treatments. A connection – the understanding of what it meant to be a survivor – was palpable. “This is a place where you feel people ‘get you’ as a breast cancer survivor,” says Barbara. “Everyone is so supportive. There are no strangers - just 2,000 friends you’ve never met before.”
The culmination of their two-day journey came when they finished the marathon-and-a-half and it was time to celebrate. Thousands gathered to recognize the 293 breast cancer survivors who had taken part in this year’s event. They were brought forward, in a sea of pink, to be honored by all of those who had come out to support the cause and celebrate their strength. That feeling hasn’t gotten old for Barbara. “As soon as you cross the starting line, you’re a winner. It’s an amazing feeling to know you are helping others who are now on the breast cancer journey,” she says. “You’re like a rock star for a day.”
About one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer in the course of her lifetime. To learn more about the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, visit avon39.org. To learn more about breast cancer treatment at UNC Lineberger and the UNC Breast Center, visit unclineberger.org/breastcenter.