Walk at Capitol makes strides for cancer awareness

Kelly Pfeiffer, 52, of Sacramento was looking for a particular friend in the crowd gathered in front of the west Capitol steps Sunday morning.

“I’m doing this for my friend, Jeannie Valdez,” said Pfeiffer, pointing to the inscription on the back of her pink T-shirt. It read: “In support of Jeannie.”

“She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year,” Valdez said. “She went into remission, but she has to go into surgery next Tuesday to have her ovaries removed.”

Pfeiffer was among nearly 20,000 people, many dressed in pink, who participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K Walk in Sacramento on Sunday. The noncompetitive event supported the American Cancer Society’s efforts to raise awareness and provide services to people who have the disease. The goal this year was to raise $490,000, but the exact amount raised will not be determined until today.

This is Pfeiffer’s second time with the walk, which she marked by crossing off the date of the event from last year on her T-shirt and replacing it with this year’s date.

“We’re going to keep going,” she said. “The energy is so wonderful that I hope it carries on. It’s amazing.”

Pfeiffer was joined by her daughter, Marie, who is 12, and her son, Jeremy Gaa, 28, both of Sacramento. The family is part of a larger group of 37 who did the run last year.

Due to Gaa’s height – he’s 6 feet 8 inches – he was designated the point person to gather everyone together. He was hard to miss with a pink shirt and a bright pink feather boa draped around his neck.

He did the walk last year as well. “I think it’s great that people turn out for this,” he said. “It’s a pretty big killer of women and men, too. People don’t think about that, but even if you’re a guy, it can happen to you.”

The event began with a colorful performance of costumed Chinese lions bobbing, weaving and dancing. Many of the performers later joined the walk, accompanying cancer survivors on the procession from the Capitol, up Capitol Mall to the Tower Bridge and then down K Street Mall and back around the Capitol.

Marisa Ochoa, 26, of Sacramento chose to do the walk with her dog, Riley, a 6-year-old white Pomeranian. Riley wore a pink shirt to promote breast health, which read: “Save the Ta-tas.”

“I always bring Riley,” she said. “He likes to run and show his support, too.”

Ochoa said the Making Strides walk is one of the few that is pet-friendly, and she has brought him to the event for the past four years. Her shirt had an understated slogan: “We walk to support the cure.”

Brandon Nguyen, 31, of Elk Grove had his 5-year-old nephew, Nicholas Wilson, perched on his shoulders before the walk began.

He was doing the walk for his mother, Pearlyna Nguyen, 53, who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. “It was a big shock to us,” he said of the news. “You never think about it until it is on your doorstep.”

Sandra Gray, 62, of Elverta wore a white sash with the word “Survivor” in pink letters. She has been in remission from breast cancer for 33 years and has been going on the Making Strides walk for the past 10 years. She considers herself lucky compared to other walkers in her group.

One was a friend, Marie Reed, 52, of Sacramento, who lost her 19-year-old daughter, Brittnee, to ovarian cancer in March. “She lived for only nine months,” recalled Reed. “She got really sick and we thought it was appendicitis. But when we took her in, they found a tumor the size of a football.”

Despite going through chemotherapy, Brittnee succumbed to the disease. “The cancer was so aggressive, there wasn’t anything that the doctor could do anything about it,” said her mother, who plans to have her ovaries taken out as a preventive measure.

Sandra Gray’s husband, Duane, 55, plans to be checked for prostate cancer this year. The main reason is that cancer of one type or another runs in his family. His father died of prostate cancer and his mother suffered from lung cancer. A niece was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5 and died at age 10. An aunt was stricken with brain cancer.

“I fear from day to day that I might have it,” he said. “Everyone in my family had it. It’s scary.”