Saturday, August 17, 2013

Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Challenge

     Almost everyone knows someone battling cancer, so you probably also know that those affected by cancer need a lot of support emotionally and financially.  Low income and/or uninsured cancer patients often face an even darker battle, a battle in which they may silently forego treatment and resign themselves to their condition because of the shame of not being able to afford any treatment and the difficulty of finding care in the first place.  That's why it's so important to get involved in fundraisers that benefit cancer research, patient support, and free preventative care.  Even if you can't afford to sponsor or donate, you can volunteer to help with such events.  And the Bay Area is one of the richest places for volunteer opportunities.
     This year my sister and I volunteered for the 9th Annual Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Challenge on behalf of Mills College.  Faith Fancher was a journalist and reporter for WBIR and KTVU.  After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Fancher made her battle with the disease public in a mini-series on KTVU titled "Faith's Story." Fancher succumbed to the disease in 2003, but her legacy continues in the annual 5k walk/run and other events held by Friends of Faith, Inc., in Faith's honor.  The walk/run takes place at Oakland's Lake Merritt, and the website ( states that the event "is a fundraiser for uninsured and underinsured women undergoing treatment for breast cancer."
     This year, Mills College hosted the water booth at 18th Street.  As volunteers, we handed out the water, but we also cheered the runners and walkers on with our voices, plastic cowbell and hand clackers, pom poms, and an occasional hug.  A group of Mills employees and alumni also supported the event and their own cancer survivors by running or walking in it. 
     Hands down, this is one of the best experiences I've had in the Bay Area.  Everyone was just so happy.  The runners and walkers cheered with us as they came through, people were genuinely grateful for the water and the enthusiasm, and cars passing by honked their support.  Smiles were infections and inescapable.  My favorite part was seeing all the kids running through the water station.  One young boy was running flat out, arms akimbo, stride irregular...the type of running only children can achieve.  Many of these participants have stood on the frontline, have faced terrible suffering and loss, and yet they still embrace life, love, and joy. To hand someone a bottle of water and see that person light up from such a simple gesture, to see people with serious faces suddenly break into grins as they realize the cheering they hear is for them...these experiences are priceless.
     Besides getting a rejuvenation of optimism from participants, we volunteers got a big sunny smile from Mother Nature.  There was just enough overcast to prevent sunburn, and there was a cool breeze coming in off the water and fountain.  Our view was amazing.  From our location, we could look out across Lake Merritt and see Downtown Oakland and the string of pink shirts making its way back to the starting point.  We set up the booth at around 8 am, and the event lasted until around 11:30 am.  As we waited for the runners, we could watch cranes, herons, and loons fishing in the water.  We could also see crew teams practicing.
     And the fun didn't end after the run and walk was finished.  Back at the start line, the band Push entertained participants while they cooled down.  Former Giants player Jeffrey Leonard signed autographs at the Gazebo, and six runners and walkers received prizes for their performance.  Participants could also purchase raffle tickets starting at $5 to win a bunch of awesome prizes: a Pier 39 Fun Package, Raiders and Giants signed merchandise, Golden State Warriors signed merchandise, a resort vacation, and more.
     If you're interested in participating in this event in the future, it only costs $40 to run or walk.  Or you can volunteer.  Just go to to learn more, and check back next year to sign up as a participant or volunteer.  I personally think it's best to drive to this event.  Parking beside Fairyland is plentiful, even when the event gets busy, and costs $5 for the whole day.  Just make sure you have a five dollar bill because it's cash only, and ATMs are not close enough for convenience.  They'll also give you a hard time about breaking a twenty dollar bill.  Eye roll.
     After you participate or volunteer, why not make a day of it?  Have lunch at one of the restaurants in the area or grab a snack from Lake Merritt Bakery.  Rent a row boat, peddle boat, canoe, sailboat, or kayak from the Lake Merritt Boating Center at a very affordable price ($10-$25 an hour, depending on your choice of craft).  The Boating Center is also cash only.  If you have kids, go check out Fairyland, but be aware that you have to have a child with you to enter.  Also, a word to the wise. A lot of geese inhabit the Lake Merritt area, and most grass is covered in droppings.  So picnics might not be the best idea.
     Enjoy your community, your city, and your state.  But remember to give back if and when you can afford to do so.  Time is often as valuable to organizations as money.  A couple of hours a week can create a better place to live, brighten a person's day and life, and make you feel good.  Everybody wins in this scenario.

Volunteers Preparing to Cheer and Hydrate
Gathering More Water

The Mills College station with the sign ("Courage") my sister made for a friend and participant.

Our View

If you look really hard, you can see the string of pink shirts approaching the finish.

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