Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walk takes place Monday in Seaford

By Lynn R. Parks

Renee Bell of Seaford was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. On Monday evening, she attended her first Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, sponsored by the city of Seaford and Nanticoke Health Services.

"There are a lot of people saying that I can't make it up this hill," Bell said, standing in the parking lot of Nanticoke's Cancer Care Center before the start of the walk and wearing a pink "Survivor" sash,"but I'm going to make it to the top."

With Bell were her caretaker, Shannon Paulson, and their daughters Devan West, 10, and Kasaya Bell, 12. Devan and Kasaya competed in a beanbag toss, with pink beanbags shaped like breasts. "We are having a good time," Renee said.

Participants in the walk strolled from the Cancer Care Center about three blocks to downtown's Gateway Park, where the trees were decorated with pink ribbons and lit with pink floodlights. "Even the sky is pink," one woman said as the crowd turned toward the west and walked along Middleford Road.

Walkers were accompanied by members of the Seaford High School Gospel Choir who sang as they made their way to the park, under the direction of Rayshawn Rich-Vines.

The Rev. Carol Hopkins and Tammy Donohoe, both cancer survivors, addressed the crowd at the park. Hopkins, who was diagnosed 11 years ago, said that she has visited people who have just been told that they have cancer, "some of them in Stage 4," and she has told them, "Look at me. I was where you are now. If God can bring me through, he can bring you through."

Hopkins, who is a volunteer with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, said that it's important for women with breast cancer to seek out support groups and to talk with other cancer patients. "People who haven't had cancer cannot understand the things that you're saying," she said. "Everyone needs someone, so buddy up. Because I've been there, I can help others who are going through the same thing."

Donohoe, a registered nurse who is coordinator of Nanticoke's cardiac pulmonary rehab department, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017. She attended her first Breast Cancer Awareness Walk just a few months later and "I wasn't really feeling like a survivor," she said. "I wasn't embracing the sash, I hated cancer and I really didn't like the color pink."

She completed chemotherapy and then radiation treatments in April and underwent surgery to remove an ovary in August. She will take medicine for the next 10 years, to reduce the risk of her cancer returning.

She was fortunate, she said, to be able to continue working through her treatment. State Rep. Danny Short told the audience that after he had a heart attack in July 2017, Donohoe and others at the Nanticoke cardiac rehab. department helped him to recover. "She didn't miss a beat in my life," he said. "She did what she needed to do to get herself healthy, and then she came back and helped us."

Donohoe said that she won't go so far as to say that her cancer was a blessing, "but it did give me a new perspective on life, and I'm very thankful for that," she said.

She told the cancer patients in the audience, "Cancer does not define what you are. You are still you and you will have so many years to be a blessing to others."

She advised them to rely on their faith and on their families, and counseled that they "don't try to figure it all out today. Just take things one day at a time."

Donohoe said that at one of her last visits with her surgeon, Dr. Sam Miller, she was still looking for answers as to why she had cancer. "I also wanted someone to tell me that it won't come back," she said.

Miller couldn't help her on either front.

"But he told me that I can continue to dwell on those things, or I can live every day that I have to the fullest," she said. "That's what I have chosen to do."

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