Community gathers to fight breast cancer, one mile at a time

The annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk took off on Saturday, Oct. 17, without a hitch as over 1,000 participants from St. Cloud and central Minnesota gathered to tackle breast cancer, one mile at a time.

The goal of the walk was to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, which will use the money for research to find a cure for breast cancer. About 90 teams participated in the event, with hundreds of individuals garnished in pink clothing to show their support for those affected by the disease.

Amanda Pilger, the community manager for the event, said they have currently raised over $87,000, and have projected to have an increase from last year’s walk by about 10 percent. They are accepting donations through Dec. 31.

Many people attend to show support for people affected by breast cancer, but for those who have heard the dreaded words, “you have cancer,” it’s particularly meaningful.

Tara Portinga is a 36-year-old mother of two who was told she had cancer this May. Unfortunately, breast cancer is a disease her family knows all too well.

Portinga said, “I had an aunt diagnosed at 35 who actually passed away from breast cancer, and then my grandma at 60 had breast cancer.”

To make matters worse, she learned her breast cancer was multi-focal, meaning the MRI detected several cancerous lumps. In June, she proceeded to have a bilateral mastectomy, which is the removal of both breasts.

“I have been recovering from that, and was scheduled to start chemo, but got a rare infection from the surgery,” Portinga said. “So I’ve been dealing with the infection, and when I am done with that, then I will start chemo.”

She hopes to begin reconstructive surgery after the infection clears. But, like many women who have undergone mastectomies, the change is hard to adjust too.

“Being 36, it’s a big part of you, and we like to complain about them that they are in the way and they’re heavy and annoying… But, when you don’t have the option to have them anymore, it takes away a big part of you,” Portinga said.

Beyond those major changes, she had to worry about more than just herself.

Portinga has two daughters, ages 8 and 11. She explained that breaking the news to them was difficult, but her family has been supportive every step of the way.

“They took it really well, and I had a great nurse who coached me on what to say and not say to kids. She said give them just the smallest amount of information that they need,” Portinga explained. “She said, don’t’ say ‘I have cancer.’ Say, ‘there’s something in my body that has cancer, and we’re going to go get it removed.’ She said if you say, I have cancer; they think it’s all over your body.”

Despite them taking the news well, Portinga explained the situation has still been difficult for her children.

“I think seeing me in the hospital after surgery was really hard for them, and when I got home, I was in a lot of pain. So, I think that was hard for them, but grandma was good at distracting them.”

For now, Portinga and her family are hoping for the best, and she said seeing the support from everyone in the community was amazing.

That support can be seen beyond St. Cloud, as over 300 communities and over one million participants gather each year to educate others and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for prevention and research for a cure. The walks typically take place during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Although Central Minnesota’s walk is over, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, California and Florida each have walks coming up this next Saturday, Oct. 31.

Miss this year’s walk? No need to worry, the event is annual and will be around again next October.

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