In 2001, eight months after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Jo Ann Citro walked in the first Westmoreland Walks at Twin Lakes Parks near Greensburg. She hasn't missed a walk since.
"There were other women there who were survivors, and that was a great thing for me," said Mrs. Citro of Mount Pleasant.
Now 70, Mrs. Citro will walk with about 400 others whose lives have been affected by breast cancer in the 11th annual Westmoreland Walks on Saturday at Twin Lakes Park.
The event raises funds for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, a statewide group that offers educational programming, legislative advocacy and research grants.
"It's exhilarating. We have a celebration of life ceremony before, and all the survivors at the walk are recognized," said Cheryl McMullen of Ligonier, a board member for Westmoreland Walks.
"The most moving part was when they called the survivors" to be recognized, Mrs. Citro said. "I felt as though the Lord gave me another chance."
She said she finds it difficult to put into words the emotion she felt at that first walk.
Each year, a breast cancer survivor is asked to speak at the ceremony. This year, Rick Anderson will speak. Ms. McMullen noted that men, too, can get breast cancer.
Mr. Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 55 when he noticed a lump. A biopsy determined he had cancer and he underwent a radical mastectomy.
"It was a good thing that national news the week before had run a story on male breast cancer," he said. "I was able to use that information to help me detect the lump."
He said the information and the self-exam likely saved his life, and today he is enjoying time with his wife, children and grandchildren.
The organization that started the walk -- Westmoreland Walks Inc: Taking Steps Against Breast Cancer -- was founded in 2000 when Ms. Mullen and two others who had close friends who had the disease wanted to bring an event similar to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure closer to home.
Since then, the group of nine women has raised $250,000 for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.
"We feel they are a very good matchup for us because all the money stays in Pennsylvania," Ms. McMullen said.
The annual walk also helps fund a Spa Serenity Day, held each May for 12 to 16 breast cancer survivors, who are treated to a full day of spa services, therapy and education about their disease. The group also offers a $1,000 Pink Ribbon Scholarship to a high school senior who has been affected by breast cancer. The scholarship is for students who have been affected by the disease, such as having a mother or grandmother who has breast cancer.
"It's very rewarding for us to get these applications and read these stories," Ms. McMullen said of the scholarship applications. "It's quite touching."
In recognition of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Westmoreland Walks organization has approached 400 businesses along Route 30, from Laughlintown to Irwin, asking for help to "paint" the highway pink by decorating their properties with breast cancer's signature color.
"Maybe one woman who is driving down Route 30 will [see the pink and] think, 'I haven't had a mammogram in a while,' " Ms. McMullen said.
This year, plans call for the nine buildings that make up Smail Acura in Greensburg to be adorned with pink ribbons in a variety of sizes, Lindsey Smail-Scheider said.
"It's dear to our hearts. We've had family members [affected by breast cancer], and we just wanted to raise awareness in the community," she said.
Registration on the morning of the walk begins at 9:30 a.m. For information and to register: westmorelandwalks.org.
"I really think this walk is amazing," Mrs. Citro said. "I don't think that there is another word that's as scary as hearing that you have cancer."neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.