Breast cancer survivors lead trek to save lives

When Sandy Hoose first participated in the Palmetto Health Foundation Walk for Life, she did it to help a co-worker who had survived breast cancer.

Now, she does it for herself.

On Saturday, Hoose, a cancer survivor for six years, and her husband, Larry, joined about a dozen of her co-workers from AllSouth Federal Credit Union for the 19th annual walk to raise money for breast cancer services offered by Palmetto Health.

Hoose walked for the first time 10 years ago after a co-worker who survived breast cancer recruited her to the credit union's team.

In 2003, the walk became more personal after Hoose's doctor found a cancerous spot on one of her breasts during an annual mammogram.

"It really touches home when it happens to you," she said.

Walkers register in teams or as individuals. While the registration fees earn money for the Palmetto Health Breast Center, teams compete with each other to raise additional cash for the cause.

Hoose and her teammates raised more than $2,000 for the cause by holding bake sales and raffles at the credit union's offices.

Overall, the 2009 walk raised about $350,000 for the breast center, said Ashley Dusenbury, the foundation's public relations director. The breast center provides education and support to patients.

The walk kicked off at 8:30 a.m. at Finlay Park with encouraging words from survivors and a few minutes of warm-up exercises.

At 9 a.m., nearly 6,000 people headed out on a three-mile walk through a historic section of downtown Columbia. They created a bobbing sea of pink as the crowd moved through downtown.

The overcast sky kept the temperature low, which made for a nice walk.

Pamela Wise and Tina Chambers, two of Hoose's co-workers, said she inspired them to join the cause. They also were moved by the sheer mass of people.

"It gives us hope in case we ever get it," Wise said. "You never know who will get it."

The AllSouth team got separated after the first mile because some team members walked slower than others. But Sandy and Larry Hoose stuck together.

They stopped for a short break about half-way through as Sandy Hoose doused a pink bandanna with water to rub down her face.

The couple completed the three-mile loop in just over an hour.

"I made it," Sandy Hoose said. "Red face and all."

That's the kind of can-do spirit it takes to overcome cancer.

Hoose said she refused to let a cancer diagnosis keep her down. She never missed a day of work even though she received radiation treatments every day for five weeks.

"I had a good day or two of crying," Hoose said. "Then, I said, 'Stop it. I've got to have a winning attitude.' It's the only way to beat it."

Attitude also is the key to survival for Vera Gillie, the featured breast cancer survivor for 2009's walk.

Gillie, a 47-year-old Columbia woman, is fighting her fifth round with breast cancer.

She sat out the walk because recent chemotherapy treatments have sapped her strength.

Still, she was like a rock star for the day as other women stood in line to speak with her and pose for pictures. She wore shimmering pink lipstick and matching eye shadow to go with her pink track suit.

"I wouldn't miss it," Gillie said.

When asked what advice she has for other women who are fighting the disease, Gillie said, "Don't focus on your affliction but your attitude. Your attitude is what gets you through. That and God's got it."