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Women hit road to fight cancer

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Three Valley women are preparing to take part in a 60-mile trek, while at the same time raising money to fight cancer, as part of the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day walking event to be held Aug. 10-12.

Julie Brain of North Bend, Jen Emory of North Bend and Linda McSwain of Fall City, along with about 20 other Valley residents, have signed up to walk 20 miles a day in three successive days and hope to raise $1,900 each to help support breast-cancer research and services.

Emory, Brain and McSwain will walk from Enumclaw to Seattle during the three-day event. Despite all the pain they may encounter along the way, their focus will remain the same: generating money to benefit patients who might some day be able to return to their families cancer free, ready to take their first step into a bright future.

Emory works for Brain's husband, Dr. Kris Brain, as his dental assistant. She once did a multiple-sclerosis walk, but nothing this long before. Brain works as a hairdresser and will also be participating in the three-day walk for the first time. They described how they decided to participate.

"Jen heard it on the radio," Brain said.

"And when I heard it, I knew I wanted to do it," Emory said. "I thought Julie would want to do it for something fun to do."

"When she asked me, I thought it sounded great and then I said, 'Did you know about my family?'" Brain said.

Brain's grandmother and mother are survivors of breast cancer, and her sister, who was diagnosed six years ago at the age of 30, is still fighting it. Brain's sister has spent numerous hours in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy and even stem-cell treatment, which Brain calls an extreme type of chemotherapy.

Stem-cell treatment, according to Jeffrey Abrams at the National Cancer Institute, is a transplant procedure that involves filtering a patient's blood for several days to remove stem cells and store them. The patient is then given high-dose chemotherapy, which fights the cancer. After chemotherapy has been completed, the stored stem cells are returned, or "transplanted," to the patient to grow new blood cells.

"It's important to understand that it's the chemotherapy and not the transplant that's the actual treatment," Abrams said. "The transplant just supports, or enables, higher doses of chemotherapy to be given." Brain's aunt was also diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50.

Emory said both she and Brain decided it was divine inspiration that led them to find out they were both affected by breast cancer. And it was only after Emory decided to invite her new friend to walk with her that she found out about Brain's family.

"It's not something you go up and say to somebody," Brain said. "But it's almost like every other person has it, or knows someone who has it."

McSwain also heard an advertisement on the radio and said she felt compelled to do the walk.

"It talked to me. It was something I knew I had to do," she said, adding that a good friend of hers is a breast-cancer survivor, as are several acquaintances.

Her family has a history of heart disease. McSwain's grandmother died of a heart attack, and her mother, whom she currently takes care of, has the disease. Her husband also survived a heart attack.

So far she has raised $841.50 for breast cancer. She will sometimes poke fun in an outspoken way at people she knows when asking them to donate money to the cause.

"Don't be cheap!" she said laughingly to a family friend who had misread the pledge form and thought the minimum pledge was $1,000.

Pledges may be made in any amount and can be made online at www.breastcancer3day.org, given directly to the walkers participating, or sent to the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day pledge office's bank.

Brain has raised $1,200 so far, and Emory did not have an exact figure for the amount she has raised.

Emory and Brain spend three days a week walking three to four miles each time while training for the event. Sometimes they walk even farther.

"We've gone eight [miles] a few times, and that felt great," Brain said. Their goal is to be able to walk 15 miles before the event.

"They say if you can do 12 and wake up the next day and do it again, you're pretty much ready," Emory said.

For the safety of the walkers, the course for the event will not be known to anyone until the day before it begins.

McSwain has trained since January. She has increased her mileage from two to three miles a day, and her longest walk has been 14.5 miles, which takes about three to four hours to finish. She can be found walking from city to city in an attempt to get in enough mileage.

"With each increase, a new part of your body goes, 'Hi, how are you doing?'" she said.

McSwain is confident that she will be able to finish the three-day event, but knows the last day will be the real test of her new-found athleticism, though she does not admit to being an athlete.

"What better way to get yourself in shape? The training creates a lot of personal reflection," McSwain said.

McSwain quit smoking only a year and a half ago, and is glad she did. She was even able to pay for yoga classes with the money she saved from not buying cigarettes. She has also started cooking low-fat meals for herself and her husband.

"I see myself finishing, and I'm confident I will make it," McSwain said. "But by that third day, all you're going to be going on is pure stubbornness."

The women will also be responsible for pitching their own tents every night when they get to the designated campsites. A two-person, 8-by-8-foot tent with a rain shield will be provided, as will tractor-trailers containing warm and cold water for showers. The walkers' meals will consist of pasta, fresh vegetables and other complex carbohydrates.

Stainless-steel sinks outside the shower trucks and portable toilets will be set up at all camps, and places to stop or grab water and a snack will line the walking route.

The most important message of the three-day walk may be that of prevention. According to Dr. Jonathon V. Wright in his "Nutrition & Healing" newsletter, mammograms appear to be efficient screening tools for women 50 and older, and they have reduced mortality rates in this age group by about one-third. However, they are controversial for women in their 40s because they have not shown the same statistically significant reduction in mortality rates as in older women.

Although there are risk factors, such as having had breast cancer previously, a family history of the disease or having a history of abnormal cell growth with atypical cell forms, prevention seems to be the only real solution.

"It's obvious that some of the risk factors are beyond your control, such as family history and unknown 'environmental estrogen' exposure. But it's certainly possible to change your diet. Decreasing your intake of animal protein and fat and increasing the fish and fish oils you ingest is a great first step," Wright wrote.

Net proceeds from the Avon Breast Cancer 3-day event fund many different areas in the fight against breast cancer, including medical research, a national finance-assistance program for medically underserved women who need breast biopsies, support services, advocacy training, community-based breast health programs and more.

About 500 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day, according to the American Cancer Society, and in 2001, 40,800 women in the U.S. are expected to die of it. The society says breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women in America, and one in every nine women who live to be 85 years-of-age will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

But there is good news. About two-million breast cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. today, according to National Cancer Institute statistics.

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