(Published by The Somers Record)
By Bob Dumas, The Somers Record. Photo courtesy of Dottie McHugh.
Dottie McHugh was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2005. But with the help of family and friends, and one particular organization – Support Connection – she made it through the ordeal and was declared cancer-free about a year later.
“My mother in law had lost her life to breast cancer six months earlier,” said McHugh, a Somers resident. “But I have a large family, I have 13 brothers and sisters, and my husband comes from a large family too, so my support was amazing.”
During that time, McHugh learned about Support Connection through a coworker who had done some fundraising for the organization. So McHugh reached out to them, figuring the more support the better.
“You still want to live life as normal as possible and [Support Connection] was a place I could go and share my experience and raw emotions about what was ahead. I felt privileged to hear [other members’] stories. I felt empowered; it gave me knowledge about what I was about to go through.”
She said her monthly peer counseling helped her though her day-to-day life during her recovery and made her feel her illness “would not stop me in any way.”
“They help you through stuff that you don’t ever think about — huge things that make a difference,” she said. “I met with a dietician who showed me recipes and taught me about vitamins and I learned about reflexology. They just offer hope. The staff is amazing. I never met someone there who didn’t have a smile on their face or a reassuring word.”
After she was cured, McHugh continued to work with Support Connection as a volunteer. Among other things, every year she volunteers to help distribute information about the annual fundraiser, Support-A-Walk, as well as forming a fundraising team for the walk, the group’s largest fundraising effort, which is slated for later this week.
“This year I was a community ambassador, putting up posters and handing out pamphlets [for Support-A-Walk],” she said. “I fundraise every year and I have a page on [the Support Connection] website [to raise funds for the Support-a-Walk].”
The name of McHugh’s walk team is Ann’s Avengers, named in honor of her mother-in-law. McHugh says Ann was a huge inspiration to their family. In addition to walking in memory of Ann, she also walks in memory of her great grandmother, grandmother and great aunt, as well as in honor of her sister and sister-inlaw who were diagnosed after her, and “all the courageous woman out there dealing with this disease.”
This year, McHugh’s daughter Megan involved her volleyball team in their fundraising efforts. Megan is a senior at Somers High School and one of the captains of the varsity volleyball team. The entire team, as well as the junior varsity, sold breast cancer T-shirts and will donate the proceeds ($5 for every shirt sold) to Support Connection.
“I am so proud of my daughter and her volleyball team,” McHugh said. “They raised $800 to place an order for 97 shirts. They each went to family and friends and asked them to support them by buying a T-shirt. I was really proud of Megan.”
McHugh said that even though she’s been taking part in the Support-A-Walk event for 10 years, it is still an emotional and empowering experience for her.
“I get there and go into the circle and we take a group picture,” she said. “The emotions are always the same as the first day I did it. It may be 10 years, but those emotions are still raw. I would do anything to raise money [for Support Connection]. They offer so much hope, wellness and information and it’s my absolute pleasure to help them.”
Support Connection’s 21st annual Support-A-Walk is slated for Sunday, Oct. 4, at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights. It is the organization’s most important annual fundraiser, with 89 cents of every dollar raised directly funding its free breast and ovarian cancer support services. Support Connection does not receive funds from any national cancer organizations. The year-round support services Support Connection provides have helped housands of people since the organization was established in 1996.
Support-A-Walk was founded 20 years ago by local residents to bring attention to the needs of people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. People travel from across the Hudson Valley and beyond to take part. In 2014, there were more than 9,000 participants.
Participants of all ages complete a three-mile walk, often in honor of loved ones – a celebration of life and a tribute to those who are affected by breast and ovarian cancer. There is a Survivor’s Welcome Area where volunteers greet and welcome cancer survivors. Along the walk path, walkers are encouraged and cheered by local bands, cheerleaders and other community groups. Families, friends, co-workers and teams of walkers are invited to walk together. Individuals are also welcome to participate.
Even those who can’t attend can participate. Donations are accepted by check, cash and online at the Support Connection website. Supporters can raise funds by creating personal online fundraising pages like McHugh did to ask friends and family for donations. Messages of support, celebration or commemoration can be displayed along the walk path by purchasing tribute signs for $50 each.