Loree Smith wanted to celebrate a remarkable milestone in a big way.
So she put on her walking shoes and trekked 60 kilometres around the Vancouver area.
“It was a way to celebrate 20 years of being cancer free,” said Smith, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, with no family history of the disease.
To mark the happy occasion she participated in the annual Weekend to End Women’s Cancers benefiting the BC Cancer Foundation.
The walk, which took place over two days Aug. 13-14, began at the University of British Columbia and ended there each day after taking participants through several Vancouver neighbourhoods.
Smith describes the long journey as “exhilarating, exhausting and emotional.”
The home stretch presented the biggest challenge for Smith, who walked from Willow Point to the Tyee Spit three times a day to train for the walk.
“The challenging part for me came when I had 1.8 kilometres to go,” Smith said. “I developed tendinitis in my ankle and I had to put ice on it so I could finish.”
Smith also got to take part in an emotional closing ceremonies where she, along with other cancer survivors, were honoured onstage.
“Just to see all the people who had defied the odds, it was pretty emotional,” Smith said.
Being around others who understand first-hand what it’s like to go through cancer was also special for Smith who never believed she would have to go through that kind of struggle.
“I was pretty shocked as I felt I was too young to have it at the time,” Smith said. “I had just met my future husband when I discovered I had cancer but he stuck with me so he’s a keeper for sure as far as I’m concerned.”
She also credits fundraisers such as the Women’s Weekend to End Cancer for improvements in cancer treatment and the shift in attitude towards cancer.
“Things have come a long way in the 20 years since I was treated and diagnosed with cancer,” Smith said. “I felt very isolated when I had it but people’s minds are more receptive and open today than 20 years ago.”
Since the Weekend started eight years ago, there has also been an increase in funding made available for research into women’s cancers. Before the event, women’s cancer research had received $200,000 from the BC Cancer Foundation but since then, $20 million has gone towards the cause, said the head of the BC Cancer Foundation.
“What has occurred since it started is phenomenal,” said Douglas Nelson, President and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation. “Researchers in B.C. have discovered new gene mutations that will aid in diagnosis and treatment of cancers; they have shown that ovarian cancer is actually five distinct diseases (and) for the first time in history, all three billion letters in the DNA sequence of a breast cancer tumour were decoded.
Smith, who personally raised $2,445 through pledges, was especially glad to be a part of this year’s women’s cancer event, as this is walk’s final year in the existing format.