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8th annual breast cancer walk raises $5.8m

2,560 participate; 11 groups benefit

By Maria Chutchian
Globe Correspondent / May 17, 2010

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Thousands gathered at the University of Massachusetts Boston for the completion of the eighth annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer yesterday, some there to support loved ones, others finishing the walk themselves, and some to celebrate their personal victories over the disease.

This year’s event, which began Saturday, had 2,560 participants and garnered $5.8 million for the fund-raising event. Participants either walked a marathon or a marathon and a half, 26.2 and 39.3 miles respectively. All walkers commit to raising at least $1,800 individually.

Many in attendance had either survived cancer or knew someone who had battled the disease. Jerry and Mary Astell of Hampstead, N.H. fell into both of those categories. The husband and wife were both diagnosed with breast cancer, him in 2007 and her a year later, and both defeated it. Jerry Astell not only survived breast cancer, which is rare in men, but a subsequent bout with colon cancer, as well.

“We raised money this weekend because we know you can’t beat breast cancer by yourself,’’ Mary Astell told the cheering crowd while onstage with her husband.

Walkers finished the trek by entering a fenced-off walkway directly in front of the outdoor stage in the middle of the university’s quad. Friends and family members who did not participate but attended the closing ceremony surrounded the area while the walkers made their entrance. Cancer survivors made their way through an even smaller, fenced-off walkway within the larger one and stood directly in front of the stage, waving white pom-poms in the air as they completed their journey.

Financial adviser and television host Suze Orman made an appearance, awarding grants to 11 New England organizations engaged in fighting breast cancer.

Massachusetts General Hospital received the largest amount, $750,000. Tufts University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center each received grants of $300,000; University of Massachusetts Amherst was given $285,000; Dana Farber Cancer Institute received $200,000; Silent Spring Institute, Cambridge Health Alliance, and Lifespan Foundation each received $150,000; Central Maine Medical Center received $140,000; and Community Servings and Bay State Medical Center both were given $100,000.

“You are changing the course of breast cancer here in Boston as well as the rest of the world,’’ Orman told the crowd. “You should be proud, Boston!’’

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