GENEVA – An army of more than 1,500 cheering walkers burst down the trail at Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva on Saturday morning, braving a cool wind and clouds that threatened rain.
After all, many were cancer survivors and once you face off with the Big C, what’s a little weather?
The event was the sixth annual Bridge Walk for LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, a nonprofit that provides free support services to people with cancer and their families.
This year’s 5K event raised $216,000 said LivingWell development director Susan Mielke.
“This is one of our two major fundraisers that we do each year,” Mielke said. “It raises the money that allows us to provide programs and services for cancer patients in our area.”
The atmosphere was festive and celebratory, participants joining in to help LivingWell as it had helped them and their families.
Among the walkers was Geneva’s Fifth Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino, 54, who is being treated with chemotherapy for cancer of the omentum, the membrane covering the front of the stomach. Dantino said he was treated for cancer of the appendix in March 2009 and started chemo again in February for the secondary cancer.
I try not to talk about it much,” Dantino said of his cancer. “I’m just trying to go on with my life. We have taken advantage of some services at LivingWell. It is a great organization for people fighting cancer. My wife Nancy goes up there with me, too.”
Dantino said his wife, son Russell, 25, a niece and nephew walked with him.
Also walking were Jan Yung, 48, and her friend, Elizabeth Stoffel, 44, both of Winfield. Yung is being treated for breast cancer and Stoffel is walking with her in support.
“I am here to celebrate all the people at LivingWell that have helped me so much,” Yung said. “And all the people who have supported me through this past year.”
Alma Gutierrez, 62, of Elk Grove Village walked with her mother-in-law, Angelina Gajovic of Serbia, Yugoslavia. The two participated in memory of Barbara Gutierrez, 35, of Sycamore, Gutierrez’s daughter-in-law and Gajovic’s only granddaughter, who died of ovarian cancer two years ago.
“The walk is in honor of her,” Gutierrez said.
Susan Spencer, 36, of Elgin, walked with a team of more than 30 called Butterfly Kisses, also in memory of Gutierrez.
“She was a good friend of mine,” Spencer said. “We grew up together. It was a shock and it was sad. She suffered greatly. She’s at peace now, but we miss her. She spoke highly of [LivingWell], they offered so many comforting services.”
David Kovacs, 42, of Aurora, walked with his wife, Michelle, 40, and brother-in-law Jeremy Schultze, 36, of Batavia, in memory of their mother and step mother who both died of cancer.
Penny Bringle, 55, of Aurora, had ovarian cancer and step-mother, Sue Schultze, 51, of Elburn, had pancreatic cancer, Kovacs said.
“It’s a way to raise money for a cancer resource center that does a lot of good for the community,” Kovacs said. “They both used the services and were comforted by them.”
Michelle Kovacs said the walk allows the family to give back some of the support that LivingWell gave them during their mother’s and step-mother’s illnesses.
“Mom and Sue both took part in activities at LivingWell and the support groups,” Michelle Kovacs said. “And when they passed, both my father and I both went to grief support group. So a lot of members of our family have found comfort in LivingWell. And we’re really proud to be able to give back in the names of our mom and step mom.”
Jeremy Schultze said their mother died in October 2008 and their step-mother was diagnosed Jan. 1, 2009.
“They’ve done really good things for our family,” he said of LivingWell.
Another walker, Terry Sattler, 61, of Bartlett, said she participates to support her daughter, Rebecca, 29, who was diagnosed with bile duct cancer.
“They gave her two years and she’s been going for five years,” Sattler said. “She uses the services at LivingWell, she goes to the support group; my husband and I went to the support group for caregivers. Her 6-year-old daughter goes there ... and it’s been good for Kylynn to see that there’s other kids who have parents with cancer.”