A group of friends, some of whom are cancer survivors, formed and bonded over their shared mission to raise awareness and funding to support women with breast cancer. Since 2006 they’ve conditioned together, preparing to walk 39 miles over two days at Avon sponsored breast cancer walks. When Avon abruptly canceled their event in January 2018 just one week before the scheduled walk date, Bahar Tolu and her group of walkers were devastated. Instead of giving up on fundraising for breast cancer, they came up with a plan to create their own nonprofit cancer initiative called Walk Strong Bay Area (WSBA).

The group of friends now serve on WSBA’s board. Darlene Heath is president, Bahar Tolu is treasurer, Gary Egan is secretary, and Barbara Ranes, Monica Hernandez, Donna McCurdy and Patty Herrera are in advisory roles. These dedicated folks, along with the assistance of friends and family, made the creation of the nonprofit possible, and in particular, Mr. Heath, a partner at a Palo Alto law firm, completed the paperwork to establish WSBA’s 501c status in May 2018. The group’s mission is as follows, “Walk Strong Bay Area partners with community nonprofit breast cancer health organizations that provide support to people from diagnosis to recovery, one step at a time.”

WSBA organized its first walk which took place in September 2018 and raised over $35,000. The funds benefited the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFGH) Cancer Center to help support projects and assist in the care of cancer patients. WSBA quickly got into the swing of meeting the requirements of a nonprofit and went to work organizing fun fundraising events to raise additional funding. They used their networks to recruit assistance with fundraising through other organizations such as Polka Dot Powerhouse San Mateo. WSBA is continually looking for charities to support their cause and found Bay Area Cancer Connections (BACC), a nonprofit that supports anyone affected by breast or ovarian cancer with personalized services that inform and empower.

WSBA held its second walk in October 2019 and raised $36,000, which was split between donations to ZSFGH Cancer Center supporting professional development to directly benefit cancer patients and to BACC for their boutique, comfort totes, and the Karen Swanson Fund. The BACC boutique helps patients find wigs, hats, scarves, bras, and swimsuits. Comfort totes
are given to new clients providing resources and comforting items such as tea, fuzzy socks, underarm pillows, healing imagery and more to support them mentally and physically as they move through cancer treatments.

About 250 Bay Area patients are offered these services annually. The Karen Swanson Fund grants a client near the end of their life an opportunity they could not otherwise afford to do something that would make them feel complete or improve their quality of life. WSBA funds sponsored ten grant recipients at $750 apiece.

WSBA is very proud of what they have accomplished, but 2020 has proved to be a very different year from previous ones in so many ways and has brought with it many challenges. Walk Strong Bay Area’s walk is tentatively scheduled to happen October 10th but may be postponed or canceled due to the pandemic. Despite the unusual circumstances and hardships, several things are still true: people are still developing breast cancer, and WSBA is still committed to fighting breast cancer. Their goal for 2020 is to raise $20,000.

WSBA is continuing to raise funds and to support and serve those with a cancer diagnosis. Please think about contributing to WSBA this year. Your donations will enable and continue critical programs and services for cancer patients. You can donate in one of two ways: you can support one or more of the 20 walkers on the 2020 team by going to walkstrongbayarea.org, or you can make a generic donation by reaching out to the leadership team at walkstrongbayarea.org/contact-1.

By Raelynn Rodriguez

This article can be found in our Fall 2020 issue