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Oct. 1: 10th Annual Paint the Park Pink

Oct. 1: 10th Annual Paint the Park Pink

Oct. 1
10th Annual Paint the Park Pink
Saves lives, locally

In October 2004 I was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. That was the start of a nine-month whirlwind of chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and extended recovery. By spring 2007, I knew one thing for sure. It was as deep a belief as a person could have. I had survived for a reason and I needed to give something back – to help other women who were facing a breast cancer diagnosis and life changing decisions with little information. Most of all, I didn’t want my daughters to have to go through what I had experienced. I wanted to beat this thing for good.

At a visit to Reynolds Cancer Support House I was introduced to Alison Levin, then executive director of the Susan G. Komen Ozark Affiliate. After the third visit, she asked me to chair a breast cancer awareness and fundraising event in Fort Smith.

I insisted she had the wrong person; I had no experience organizing a charitable event. I was a volunteer, not a chairman. She insisted she had the right person. We started planning in June for an October event. In a lightning bolt moment, Alison gently smacked the table in the Creekmore Park Community Center and said, “We’re going to paint this park pink!” And so a local iconic event was born.

Creekmore Park was covered with pink ribbons, tulle, flags and chalked names of survivors on the sidewalk. But what struck me were the tears through smiles of the walkers. I wasn’t prepared for the emotion stirred by my own experience and I was only beginning to understand what this meant to other survivors and families whose loved ones had lost the battle. They were so strong, so filled with love and hope that no one else would have to endure a battle with breast cancer. I knew we could not stop. This was bigger than all of us.

Paint the Park Pink has exploded from 270 people the first year to thousands over ten years helping to bring almost a million dollars of service grants to Sebastian and Crawford Counties. This event created by volunteers to provide education, awareness and fundraising would not be what it is today without the faith and support of University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Chancellor Paul Beran and Stacey Jones.

In three years, PPP outgrew Creekmore Park so the committee approached Dr. Beran about hosting the event on the beautiful UAFS campus. Not only did he say yes, he committed resources, buildings, staff, equipment and students.

Volunteers like Karen Dodd and the mammography staff at The Women’s Center at Sparks, business owners, cheerleaders and marching bands, breast cancer survivors and co-survivors, men and women young and old have worked together to turn PPP into a destination event. But, it is much more than that.

Paint the Park Pink is a lifesaver. Literally.

Within weeks after the first PPP event, I was asked by Sparks to write a Komen grant application. Sparks wanted to provide free mammograms for women who were uninsured or underinsured. Again, I said I have no experience. They replied, “You’re the one.” Three months later, Komen Ozark awarded Sparks a $70,000 grant for mammograms and related services and I was offered a job as director of business growth and development for Sparks Clinic.

Stick with me – this story has a point and IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!

One of my tasks was to track and report on the Komen Grant. One day in my first month on the job the phone rang. A woman with a suspicious lump had come in and she had no insurance. She received a mammogram through the Komen grant and was diagnosed with breast cancer. A couple of weeks later it happened again – a second patient received a lifesaving mammogram that she could not otherwise afford.

We were all thrilled. We had raised the money, written the grant, provided the mammogram and caught a case of breast cancer before it was too late. A job well done! But then it got personal. As a follow up for the grant, I interviewed both women. Hearing their stories, how they had no insurance and little access to care (one didn’t have a car), it suddenly hit me: if I never did anything else in my life, I had played a very small part in saving the lives of two women I didn’t know.

I’d never meet all of the people whose lives would be changed because I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something on their behalf. All the volunteers who took time away from work or their families had given a stranger another chance at life. That one moment made it all worth it. Paint the Park Pink changed their lives and it changed mine.

Understanding the impact this effort has on people right here in our community has been the driving force that has kept it going for ten years. I’m confident this ‘pink passion’ will exist as long as necessary under the capable leadership of Komen Ozark’s new executive director Lauren Marquette; River Valley Services Coordinator and co-survivor Teresa Jones; and volunteers with never-ending energy like Madeline Marquette. Paint the Park Pink won’t end until we find a cure for breast cancer because a pink UAFS campus in October equals hope that a free mammogram, education and awareness will lead to early detection and save other lives.

Guest writer Lorie Robertson was invited by the magazine to share her first-person testimony upon this 10th Paint the Park Pink because of her unique perspective as a breast cancer survivor, a volunteer and a founder of the annual walk. Robertson says she shares her account on behalf of all women and their families who have experienced the life-changing diagnosis of breast cancer, encouraging them to join her in the empowering effort to save lives.

Register by Sept. 16 with a

for the Oct. 1 Paint the Park Pink Walk

Participate by starting a team or joining an existing team to raise funds and walk together on Oct. 1 at Paint the Park Pink day. Register teams by 5 p.m. Sept. 16 Pick up team packs from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Komen River Valley Office, 1508 Rogers Avenue, Fort Smith.

• Register in person at 1508 Rogers Ave, Fort Smith from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

• Download, print and mail in a registration form from komenozark.org

Oct.1 Survivor Breakfast
7:45 a.m.
Survivors are invited to a breakfast in the Reynolds Room at the UAFS Smith Pendergraft Student Center, 800 N. 49th Street. The 2016 Paint the Park Pink Survivor group photo will be taken at 9:30 a.m. at the fireplace in the center.

10 a.m.
The Walk will start at 10 a.m. at the Bell Tower and is approximately one mile around the UAFS Campus with music, vendors and a kids area to enjoy at the end.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online