By: Mariah Brooks
Ten-year-old Parker Salinas considers herself one lucky little girl and a lifelong believer in the power of pink.
Mom Jules was diagnosed two years ago with breast cancer, enduring weeks of radiation, chemotherapy and, finally, a double-mastectomy that saved her life. Parker — the oldest of three kids — begged to get involved in the search for a cure and got busy making and selling bracelets from soda can pull tabs. Her total: 600 bracelets and $600 to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
“I’m doing something fun but I’m also doing something to help another family, or somebody else,” said the fourth-grader from suburban Atlanta. “It was the thought of helping others to feel better and not die from it.”
Parkers large and small are trying to push back the most common form of cancer in women in their own homegrown ways, from two teachers who putt-putted more than 2,700 miles on scooters in “Dumb and Dumber” getups to a Minnesota family’s cookbook that raised $30,000.
Many do it year-round with help from a bump in online giving and the rise of Facebook. Others find shorter-term projects to take advantage of October’s designation as breast cancer awareness month, when bubblegum pink takes center stage during walks, corporate drives and the sale of special products that raise millions for research, education and support for patients.
“Finding a good give-back project is like finding that perfect pair of jeans,” said Christy Eichers, who nearly lost her mother, Joan, to the disease. “To give to something you really believe in is a gift.”
Eichers hit on her “Mixing Up Memories” cookbook idea while driving one day in Minneapolis two years ago, listening to the “Wicked” tune “Defying Gravity”: “Some things I cannot change/ But ’til I try, I’ll never know!” She embellished each comfort, party-pleasing recipe (Cowboy Salsa, Annie’s Cajun Yams) with its distinct family history.
“My mom said, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re not going to have any family secrets left,’” Eichers said.
Like Parker and Eichers, Carter Hoff’s mom is a breast cancer survivor. Hoff’s good friend Alan Landers has survivors in his family, too. Both men were teachers on a U.S. military base in the Azores in Portugal when they decided on their scooter ride across the United States in late June.
“It was an easy choice,” Hoff said. “We decided we could be just two guys on scooters or we could do it wearing the orange and blue tuxedoes from ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ We had canes, too, but we lost them in Pennsylvania. They fell off the hogs,” Hoff joked.
Averaging about 300 miles a day at 60 mph or slower, it took them 16 days to go Washington to Washington and raise about $4,300. “We went for the everyday grassroots people you meet on the street,” Hoff said. “A few dollars here, a few dollars there could add up and make a big difference.”
Nobody knew more about the personal touch than Mel Simmons, a suburban Boston mother of two and a flight attendant for 38 years who died of breast cancer after a fierce, five-year battle.
Frequent flyers on Delta Air Lines planes asked for her by name. Her friends nominated her to carry the Olympic Torch, and she did with her trademark grin. During treatment for breast cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital, Simmons liked to give her nurses and others colorful bead bracelets on elastic bands that a friend found for her in Turkey.
When Simmons died in 2005, the recipients of her token gift wore them in her honor. Soon others wanted them, too, and friends found 1,000 more of the bracelets. The supply quickly sold out, with proceeds donated to cancer causes. Her loved ones realized the bracelets could raise even more money in the fight against all cancers and formed the Friends of Mel Foundation. The group had a bad turn of luck in 2007 when they voluntarily recalled the bracelets due to lead, but it found a new source in January 2008 and the tradition continues. More than $2 million in proceeds from the bracelets and other fundraisers has been distributed.
“We were missing her and trying to channel our grief in a positive way,” said Pauline Alighieri, a close friend. “At the time people started asking for the bracelets, so we put a basket down on a table and said take a bracelet, give us $10. We didn’t know what we were doing. The whole thing was done out of the back of my car.”
Greg Moore in Chattanooga, Tenn., lost his mother to breast cancer 18 years ago. The mother of his oldest daughter died of the disease two years ago.
Moore co-owns a Volvo Rents franchise, providing heavy equipment for construction work. He painted one of his 45 cherry pickers pink and began last October to donate 25 percent of its proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Moore has turned over a little more than $2,000 so far.
“At the very beginning everybody wanted to rent it for what it’s used for but a lot of times just to aggravate their workers,” he said. “On the job site it’s a big conversation piece.”
Corporate marketer Nick Mavrick at Volvo Rents headquarters in Asheville, N.C., said other stores have done the same with pink, along with red, white and blue American flag designs to support military veterans, purple for the March of Dimes and a jigsaw puzzle look for autism.
“There are a lot of big guys in this business with soft hearts,” Mavrick said. “A lot of what they do doesn’t fill their hearts. This does.”