When Joan Archer, Newton-Wellesley Hospital's vice president for development, started organizing the HopeWalks Benefit last year, consultants told her she'd be lucky to have 500 people show up to complete a 3.5 mile circuit around the hospital to benefit the hospital's Vernon Cancer Center. But people who treat cancer tend to have a certain kind of optimism.
"We decided to order a thousand orange t-shirts for participants," Archer said. "We felt like we were being brave, but we had a feeling we'd need them."
Archer's feeling was right, and then some. Approximately 1350 walkers - hospital employees, cancer survivors, friends and family - came to show support for the work the Cancer Center does, and the total amount of money raised came to approximately $243,000. Archer said that pledges to donate made this weekend could amount to a $250,000 total within the coming weeks.
"It was overwhelming. It was like a slice of old-school Americana, where the whole community came together to do something good," Archer said. "It was so inspirational."
The event was scheduled to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Center, and money raised will specifically go to supporting its life-enhancing programs, such as nutrition and parenting education for cancer patients and survivors.
"25 percent of all adults diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. have children under the age of 18," Archer said. "If it's women with breast cancer, that number goes up to 35 percent. Part of treating their cancer has to be providing them with the resources necessary to help their families cope. It's very important work."
The walk began with an opening ceremony that included speeches from hospital president Dr. Michael Jellinek and Mayor Setti Warren. Police closed down lanes to accommodate the crowds of orange-clad walkers, and a trolley also followed the route of the walk to accommodate those unable to complete the circuit. The event concluded with a picnic featuring both the traditional hot dogs and grilled chicken, and a healthy foods tent sponsored by Whole Foods.
"The Newton cheerleaders were there. People were bringing dogs and baby carriages," Archer said. "But the most moving thing were all the people who brought pictures and stories of their loved ones who beat cancer or were undergoing treatment. It was a perfect day."
That sentiment was echoed by one of the walkers, Paula Curran-Hayeck of Boylston. Diagnosed with breast cancer in May, Hayeck is about to complete her chemotherapy and doctors have given her a good prognosis.
"With any luck, I'll be doing the walk again next year," Hayeck said. "I owe so much to Newton-Wellesley for being here and being able to participate. I felt so special and blessed."
Sarah Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.