Stepping up breast cancer fight

October 24, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Ask someone who has had breast cancer to tell you their story and it often will start in the same place -- a doctor's office.

For Lelia Cacciola, her story begins at home, drying her hair.

Her arm was lifted, she recalled, when she noticed a dimpling under her breast.

She didn't know what it was, but she did know she was afraid.

A visit to the doctor confirmed her fears.

On Valentine's Day 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

For several years, Cacciola had walked in Step 'n Stride, an annual fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley (BCA-CV). She had raised money to fight the disease and had cheered on the survivors who proudly kicked off the event.

"I never thought I'd be one of them," she said.

Saturday morning, the Smithsburg woman proudly posed with about 100 other breast cancer survivors for a group photo prior to this year's Step 'n Stride.


"You never know God's plans," she said.

Cacciola was among a record-number 1,000 people who participated in the 20th annual fundraiser at Hagerstown Community College's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.

The event included a five-mile walk around the campus' Loop Road, plus a women's health fair.

This is the largest fundraiser of the year for BCA-CV, Executive Director Joan Fell said.

Organizers are hoping to top last year's total of $140,000, she said.

Proceeds will be used locally to support the free programs offered by the local organization, including mammograms, a wig and prosthesis bank, a toll-free Hopeline, and information and support groups.

"We probably have the most comprehensive support program in the nation right here in the Tri-State area," she said.

Fell said the event began 20 years ago with 60 people doing aerobics. Two years later, the number of participants had risen to 300.

"The fundraiser has evolved over the years," she said. "But our support has continued to grow."

Cacciola said BCA-CV was a lifesaver following her diagnosis.

"The support was unbelievable," she said. "I didn't feel alone. That's why it was important that I walked in today's event. I know firsthand the wonderful work they do."

Cacciola said she was joined during the walk by her sister, a niece and her two sons who, following her surgery, "stayed with me through the night and came at lunchtime to check on me."

"Breast cancer affects everyone around you," she said. "It's a difficult, shared experience. My diagnosis changed everybody in my circle."

Cacciola admitted there still are days when she's afraid, "but I have tried to turn it around. I try to feel more positive. God has blessed me in so many ways. I'm here. I'm alive. I really do feel blessed."

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