Homegrown teams strengthen UMass Medicine Cancer Walk

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

September 09, 2013

To contribute to any of these teams or other UMMS-sponsored teams, visit the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk First Giving page.

Of the thousands of people who will gather on the campus green for the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk on Sunday, Sept. 29, most have some connection to cancer, perhaps as a survivor or as a supporter of a loved one. But many have an added reason: They work, teach or learn at UMass Medical School and know better than most why supporting research and care at the Cancer Center of Excellence is so important.

“UMass is working hard through research and service to improve people’s lives, and it’s very easy to be part of this,” said Margarita Navarro of the Facilities Management Department. “The walk is an active and community-involved event where we not only give back to UMass, but also to those living with cancer.”

Many teams have participated for years, representing academic and administrative departments, Commonwealth Medicine divisions and student groups, among others. In 2012 alone, 36 teams from UMMS raised approximately $35,000. Over the past 15 years, teams representing both UMMS and UMass Memorial Health Care have collectively raised more than $725,000 to support research and care a the Cancer Center of Excellence.

“Each of us has a story to share as we are all affected in some way by cancer,” said Debra Pellegrino, who has participated with the Department of Microbiology & Physiological Systems (MaPS) since 2001 and who estimates the team has raised almost $20,000 over the years. “The survivor stories are so inspirational and really put a face to what we are raising money for. This year our team will be walking in honor of one of our department members who only recently was diagnosed with breast cancer and is receiving care and treatment here at the Cancer Center of Excellence—a special survivor story.”

Like other teams, the MaPS team organizes fundraisers in advance of the walk to maximize the department’s contribution. This year, members sponsored bake sales, but in other years they have held well-publicized “Dancing with Friends” fundraiser events that helped to bring more awareness to the greater community.

At the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk kickoff breakfast in July, the team from Commonwealth Medicine’s UHealth Solutions was awarded a Lifetime Giving Team Award for raising $50,000 and teams from the Shriver Center and the Graduate School of Nursing were recognized for raising more than $25,000. (This year, participants in a pre-walk raffle sponsored by GSN could win a Kindle Fire, with all proceeds going to the team’s total donation. Contact Jean Boucher at jean.boucher@umassmed.edu for information.)

Students also participate on several different teams, including one representing Sidekicks, a group that matches medical students with seriously ill pediatric patients. GSBS students and post-doctoral fellows are represented through GSBS Cares, which has sponsored a team for the past 10 years.

“Many UMass Medical graduate students are performing research every day to understand the mechanisms behind cancer in hopes of finding a cure. In essence, our participation is a way to advocate for our own research initiatives,” said Ashlyn Ritter, a co-organizer of the GSBS Cares team. “We also participate to show support to those who have been diagnosed with cancer and to celebrate survivors.”

Other teams are relatively new but just as enthusiastic. “We started the team as a department last year and would like to carry on the tradition, as well as do more fundraising this year to make a bigger contribution to the Cancer Center,” said team leader Lisa Lombardini of the Quantitative Health Sciences Department. “The more walkers, the better; it really shows how much support we have if people can see hundreds of people walking the route and realize what the walk is for. Pledges allow the team to feel supported and also we know they are going to a great cause.”

Just like other participants, UMMS community members who support the walk also have personal reasons for coming back to campus on a Sunday. “This year I will walk for my cousin Mary, with ovarian cancer and my Uncle Juan with prostate cancer,” said Navarro.

The walk starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29, on the campus green. For more information or to learn how to start a fundraising team, call 508-856-2589 or send an email to cancerwalk@umassmed.edu.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Jacob’s journey gives special meaning to UMass Medicine Cancer Walk
A full-circle journey for cancer survivor
Buy or service your car at Harr and support the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk