Walking 60 km to fight cancer

When thousands of walkers stroll through the Beach on Sunday, Sept. 7, Jane Werniuk will be only a couple blocks from her Haslett Avenue home. With any luck, her team of walkers will be just as close to their lofty goal of raising a quarter million dollars for the 12th annual Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend to End Women’s Cancers.

Her team, made up of 11 women and a man, founded around a networking group of women in the mining industry in Toronto, has been taking part in the walk since 2006. This year they initially planned to raise $22,000, to bring their combined total to date up to $500,000.

Werniuk said the team’s coach suggested aiming for a much larger amount, and the team went to work soliciting donations from their industry.

While the fundraising requires significant work – walkers must raise a minimum $2,000 just to take part in the event – the 60 km, two-day walk adds to the challenge.

“It’s a really long walk, and it’s a heck of a lot of money to raise,” Werniuk said.

That physical challenge was what initially attracted Werniuk to the event.

In 2003 she was diagnosed with breast cancer during the height of the SARS outbreak, which she understates as “bad timing.”

It took her doctor three weeks to find a surgeon, and her surgery at a Scarborough hospital was one of the last before surgeries were temporarily cancelled. Werniuk even ended up quarantined a couple of times in the process of treating her cancer.

After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she wasn’t feeling at the peak of health, and took up the challenge in 2006 simply to see if she could finish the walk. While she had a few rough moments on the evening after the first day, she felt better by morning and finished the full 60 km.

When the team started that year, Werniuk brought along her friend and mentor Cathy Fletcher, who challenged the team to be the top fundraisers in that year’s walk.

“And we did it, even though we had no idea what we were doing,” said Werniuk.

Fletcher and two other mentors had given her advice that she will happily pass on to anyone else going through cancer treatment.

“They said, ‘Carry on with your life, because that’s the best you can do,’ so that’s what I did,” said Werniuk. “It’s so much better when people look at you like a normal person, and not like a sick person.”

With more than two weeks remaining before this year’s walk, the team has raised almost $110,000 in donations and pledges, and Werniuk’s employer, Agnico Eagle, has committed to donating $1 for every $2 raised, bringing the group’s total to just under $165,000. Considering they were at $49,000 two weeks prior, the goal is more than realistic.

“It’s really empowering getting people to part with large sums of money for what everyone would agree is a great cause,” said Werniuk with a laugh.

While the fundraising and personal challenges are inspiring, she said the main reason she keeps returning to the walk every year is the camaraderie. In fact, Fletcher and Werniuk didn’t sign up for last year’s walk, after deciding to sit out the event. But when the team walked through the Beach, Werniuk was right there with them, and both made the decision to join up again this year.

“We decided to retire from the walk last year, but we couldn’t stand it so we’re back,” she said. “It’s definitely the friendships with my teammates. You get very close in a way you don’t normally have a chance to do.”

To donate to team Women in Mining, visit endcancer.ca/goto/wimtoronto.

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