Ms. New England Cassandra Hansen (left) and Mrs. New England Kathleen Pinkham (right) high-five walkers as they near the finish line. at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Brunswick on Sunday, Oct. 6 (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK – Sunday morning, 220 people gathered at Brunswick Town Mall for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, which raises money and awareness for breast cancer. 

Sunday also marked the third anniversary of Diane Engel’s breast cancer diagnosis. 

Engel recalled the moment her doctor looked at her mammogram results, then placed her hand on Engel’s knee, confirming her deepest fear after finding a lump in her breast. 

“She was telling me without telling me,” said Engel. “I was terrified. I didn’t want to tell my family. … My son was 11 years old at the time, he thought his mom was going to die.” 

A day she remembers being full of fear and uncertainty was replaced by a day of unity and celebration as she walked Sunday alongside her family, fellow survivors and those honoring loved ones who have lost their battle with breast cancer, all while wearing a pink tutu and a sash bearing the word “survivor.” 

Sunday’s participants raised about $24,000, which goes toward cancer research, as well as funding resources for cancer patients, such as Road to Recovery, which offers patients free rides to treatments. Since 1993, more than 13 million walkers across the U.S. have raised more than $810 million to save lives from breast cancer through Making Strides events. 

This year marks the 24th year the walk has taken place in Brunswick. Annual Making Strides also are held in Cape Elizabeth and Damariscotta. 

“The fact that these walks have continued for 24 years really says a lot about the contributions the community continues to generate,” said Henry McCorkle, community development manager for the American Cancer Society. 

The Engels raised over $300 for this year’s Making Strides walk, but split their fundraising efforts between Making Strides the Dempsey Center, which provides services such as counseling, support groups, and wellness classes to cancer patients and their families. 

Throughout her surgery and various treatments, Engel credited much of her strength to her husband, Jeremy, who started researching anything that could help his wife, including what foods to eat, immediately after her diagnosis. 

“What do you do after you’re diagnosed?” said Diane Engel. “All you know is you have cancer, but you don’t know exactly what to do next.” 

There have been an estimated 8,920 new breast cancer diagnoses and 3,310 deaths in Maine in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. There will be an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women and 2,670 cases diagnosed in men in the U.S. in 2019. An estimated 42,260 breast cancer deaths will occur in 2019. 

Sisters Michelle Corson and Kim Marr walked Sunday in memory of their grandmother, who survived breast cancer, but lost her battle with lung cancer in 2008. 

Despite the solemn undertones of the day, Corson said attending the walk every year, “gives her hope,” because of the sense of community being surrounded by other people who are experiencing the same thing creates. 

“Everybody knows someone who has been affected by cancer,” said Corson.

Isabelle Magenis (left) and Quinten Elwell (right) jump for joy at the 24th annual Brunswick Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Sunday. (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record)

For the 3-mile walk, Marr remembered how she discovered she wanted to be a nurse while taking care of grandmother and changing her surgical drains. This passion for caring for people led her to graduate nursing school in 2004.

“She was so proud of me when I graduated,” said Marr. 

Although breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, it does not have the highest mortality rate. A 2019 report from the American Cancer Society cites breast cancer has a survival rate of 85%. 

From 2007 to 2016, the breast cancer death rate declined by 1.8% per year, which the American Cancer Society credits to increased awareness of symptoms and early detection. 

“Walks like this more than anything bring people together,” said McCorkle. “We celebrate survivors at these walks because for them it’s a chance to be around other people who are going through the same thing. It’s an opportunity to celebrate life.” 

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