Small steps lead to big local effort for breast cancer awareness

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It all started 15 years ago, with three women getting antsy in a downtown parking lot.

Carol Moriarty, along with her sister and a friend, had signed up to do a breast cancer awareness walk downtown. However, after getting stuck in the parking lot, the trio decided to complete the walk not in the designated area but around their neighborhood. They enjoyed the experience so much that for the next few years that was the tradition. Each year, they’d register for the downtown walk but complete the event in Beverly, where they would enjoy brunch afterward.

For Moriarty, a breast cancer survivor, the event became a way to bring together people in her community who had been affected by breast cancer to spread awareness to her friends and neighbors.

“That was really the beginning of it,” she said.

Over the years, more friends joined, then others, and at one point, the group got large enough that the trio decided to break off and start their own walk. “I said, why don’t we just see about walking for a local hospital?” Moriarty said.

She didn’t have to look far to find the ideal partner. She had been treated at Little Company of Mary, and because it was a small hospital, it couldn’t benefit from large endowments the way large institutions could. After meeting with representatives of the hospital’s foundation, Moriarty and her crew officially began the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk to benefit the Evergreen Park-based hospital.

The event, held annually on Mother’s Day, attracts thousands of walkers as well as many friends and neighbors who line the streets to cheer for participants. Schools get involved as well, raising money for the cause. Moriarty said it makes her feel close to and grateful for her community.

“People ask us to go down their block,” Moriarty said. “It’s a Mother’s Day tradition. I bet we are the best breast cancer walk in the country.”

Last year, the walk included more than 12,000 participants and raised more than $540,000. This year, even though the walk is still weeks away, participants have raised more than $50,000, Moriarty said.

The vast majority of proceeds from the walk go to the hospital’s foundation, while a small percentage is used for things like signage, Moriarty said. Local businesses that sponsor the event cover many costs, such as T-shirts for those who participate, and police officers donate their time to man the event.

“Our expenses are minimal,” she said.

The walk is organized by Moriarty and a handful of others who donate their time and energy to the project. Although the event has grown exponentially since its inception, the group works like a well-oiled machine, she said, with each person doing her part to make the day a success.

“I really think God had the plan that put us all together,” she said. “The passion our committee has is so powerful. If it wasn’t for this group of volunteers and the community…it wouldn’t be the wonderful walk that it is.”

Moriarty can hardly believe how large the walk has become and is pleased to help support the hospital that helped her while she was ill.

“Never, ever, ever did I think I’d have breast cancer,” she said.

She felt comfortable with her doctors and her treatment and still goes to the hospital for follow-ups. The hospital has changed somewhat, though, since Moriarty was treated there, thanks in part to the Beverly walk. The event helped raise money for the nationally accredited Comprehensive Breast Health Center, and this year, funds raised will go toward oncology clinical trials as well as hiring a genetic counselor and a nurse navigator, who will help guide patients through treatment.

The walk also has an important offshoot that will help the hospital’s patients. A few years ago, Moriarty told a friend she thought it would be fun to hold a pink pajama party to raise money, but she didn’t have the time and energy to take on the project. The friend volunteered to help, and for the past few years in mid-January, a group of women have congregated at the DoubleTree in Alsip to enjoy dinner, cocktails, dancing and games.

For the first few years, the group wasn’t sure how much they’d raise or what to do with it, so they set the money aside. This year, however, they’ve decided to put it toward mini-grants for women in need.

“When I had (breast cancer), I had a lot of support,” Moriarty said. However, she’s met some women who aren’t so lucky. Some lack the means or energy to take care of household chores or even arrange transportation to treatments. The money raised from the pink pajama party will go toward helping provide food, house cleaning, transportation and whatever else patients might need. This year, there’s almost $22,000 available for mini-grants, and this year’s walk will fund the hiring of someone to facilitate the distribution of the money.

More information about the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk is at Registration costs $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 18 and younger, including a T-shirt. Day-of-walk registration costs $40 for adults and $20 for children 18 and younger, including a t-shirt while supplies last.

Registration for the pink pajama party usually opens in August or September for those on the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk mailing list.