Lawrenceville – Saturday, Oct. 1 dawned sunny and a little cool, a perfect day for a walk. At least, that’s what more than 800 men, women and children thought as families and friends flocked to Coolray Field for Gwinnett County’s first annual “Paint Gwinnett Pink” 5K Run and Walk for Breast Cancer. Gwinnett Medical Center partnered with Paint Georgia Pink, Inc. to present this day of fellowship, exercise, celebration and honoring (and of course, some fundraising).
“I used to ask, why in the world am I having to drive all the way over to Fulton County to participate in a Breast Cancer Walk?” asked Bobbie Menneg, a 5 ½ year breast cancer survivor. Three years ago, she assumed responsibility for the cancer support group at Gwinnett Medical Center. After having been laid off from her job in 2015, Bobbie is now able to volunteer full time at the infusion center and the day surgery center.
“I get what the women who are going through this have to handle. They lose their hair, and sometimes they lose their breasts. To a woman, that feels like losing your identity, all the things that make us feminine and beautiful,” said Menneg. “I like to think of these women as caterpillars. When they come out on the other side of this, when they emerge as survivors, they are just beautiful.”
Menneg’s passion and heart for helping women who have heard the dreaded words, “You have breast cancer,” is obvious. Her face lit up, as she hugged and kissed dozens of women at the Gwinnett Breast Cancer Walk. The women she hugged showed the same honest happiness as they hugged her back. These women are all members of the same club now, and it’s a club that no one wants to belong to. Still, they have taken what seemed to be the worst of situations and turned it around to be a blessing of sorts. If those women had never been stricken with breast cancer, they would have never known just how strong they are, or how truly beautiful they are. They would have never formed lifelong friendships with other women who have been through what many have called “hell.”
“The chemotherapy and radiation treatments are not fun. They’re hard,” Menneg said. “But if I can be in there with them, and they can see that I survived, that’s encouraging. We become sisters.” Menneg adds that survivors often give back by later helping others who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When a new woman comes in, we surround her, help and encourage her. We then match her with another woman who has been through the same things that she faces. I just love, love my beautiful ladies. Now, we are sisters.”
Menneg and other women are thrilled that Gwinnett County finally has a Breast Cancer Walk of its own. The physicians and administrators of Gwinnett Medical are thrilled, as well. All of the money raised from the Oct. 1 walk at Coolray Field will stay right here in Gwinnett. “That money will be used to help women who can’t afford some or all of their medical costs. It will be used to buy wigs, cancer comfort wear, prescriptions, groceries and more,” said Menneg, “because if you haven’t faced this, you don’t understand how devastating it is. Everything changes. Everything.”
This first walk in Gwinnett exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of the number of participants. North Johnson, General Manager of the Gwinnett Braves, was as surprised as anyone else by the impressive turnout. “We do a lot of 5K (walks) here, and three hundred to four hundred people is a big turnout. There were eight hundred people registered to walk here today, and that was before the walk-ups started registering. That’s big, especially considering that this is the first one ever here in Gwinnett.”
Men and women everywhere smiled and hugged each other on Saturday. “These people are energetic and compassionate,” said Johnson.
“Gwinnett Medical Center and the people you see here are the reasons I’m alive today,” said Karen Eggers, also a breast cancer survivor. Surrounding Eggers and other women were physicians, nurses, survivors, patients, and their friends and family.
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“It’s wonderful to see how our community came together for this,” said Cathie Brazell, Vice President of Operations at Gwinnett Medical Center. “And this is just our first one!”
The first Breast Cancer Walk in Gwinnett was a family-friendly event. Vendors were on hand, selling a wide variety of wares, including jewelry, soaps and lotions, cancer wear, crafts and homemade items and more. There were several inflatable jumping houses for children, and there were prizes for the best costumes. This year’s theme was “Capes and Crowns.” Many participants donned creative hair, makeup and clothes for the event, and a note of particular interest- there were a great many men walking alongside women and children on Saturday.
One of the best things about Gwinnett’s Paint Cancer Pink breast cancer walk is what it means for all breast cancer patients in Gwinnett. According to Dr. Kevin Peacock, whose specialty is hematology and oncology at Gwinnett Medical Center, “every penny earned today stays right here in Gwinnett!” That money will be used to buy cutting edge imaging equipment, access to mammograms and surgical consultations, and assistance for cancer treatment needs.
“The doctors and nurses at GMC jump through hoops for patients, getting on the phone to help find treatments that they otherwise couldn’t afford,” Menneg said, smiling through a few tears. “I am just overwhelmed at what we have here today. I’ve made a great many friends as a result of having cancer and surviving it. I’ve lost some friends, too. But this is such an honor for me.”
For more information about Gwinnett Medical Center, visit www.gwinnettmedicalcenter.org. For more information about Paint Gwinnett Pink and Paint Georgia Pink, visit www.paintgeorgiapink.org.